If you felt a sharp, sudden discomfort just reading the title of today’s blog post you may want to buckle up. While perfectionism isn’t formally considered a disorder, it is a trait that pops up quite regularly in association with childhood trauma and various mental health conditions.
Frequently, perfectionism is associated with high performers, creative geniuses, and athletes—but it can also play a key role in eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, anxiety, depression, and even substance abuse.
In this article, we’ll take a look at what perfectionism is, and how it might be impacting your life.
What is Perfectionism?
More often than not perfectionism is rooted in fear of failure. Some people hide that fear better than others—and some people hide from that fear, while others let it run the show. On one of the spectrum, perfectionism can lead people to fear failure so much they opt out. They lean into hopelessness and despair.
These are people who are discouraged when they have difficulty picking up a new skill. Their fear of failure keeps them from participating. They’re worried about rejection and don’t want anyone to see them make a fool of themselves.
All the way at the other end there are those whose fear of failure leads them to overachieve. These are the worriers. They’re always looking for what could go wrong, putting in late hours, practicing again and again, and rewriting the same paragraph five different ways in search of the perfect turn of phrase.
Any mistake is catastrophic, any flaw stands out like a sore thumb. These individuals are often so tied up in their pursuit of perfection that they run ragged, living in a constant state of high stress, and high performance, until one day they can’t keep up their own harsh pace and start to crack under the pressure.
The Price of Perfection
In some cases, perfectionism doesn’t feel like a problem. It’s seen as a source of power, not a source of distress. Unfortunately, even in those cases, perfectionism can still lead to unhealthy behaviors that interfere with long-term happiness. Staying locked into a high-performance, high-stress state of mind for an extended period of time puts one at greater risk for:
- Drug & Alcohol Abuse
- Heart Failure
- Insomnia \ Restlessness
- Emotional Dysregulation
- Depression \ Anxiety
In addition, the pursuit of perfection can lead people to workaholism, causing them to favor their performance at work over the happiness of their families.
Origins of Perfectionism
While there are still some questions about what precisely causes perfectionism in different people, especially given how different it can present, there are several known risk factors. A few common causes of perfectionism include:
Early Childhood Trauma
Perfectionism is often associated with childhood trauma. It’s common among people who grew up in difficult circumstances and is in many ways a defense mechanism. For these individuals, perfectionism is a way of ensuring acceptance, love, attention, and a sense of safety.
There is strong evidence to suggest that perfectionism is, to some extent, genetic in nature. In these cases, a predisposition toward perfectionism is more environmental than rooted in upbringing. This hypervigilance and intense self-criticism still take a toll over time but may be harder to address.
Parental \ Family Influence
In many cases, children lean into perfectionism as a response to their relationship with their parents. Sometimes this may be a reaction to excessive praise for achievements, other times it’s due to fear of punishment or disappointing others.
While perfectionism is not considered a disorder, it can be disruptive to the individual and people in their lives. Intense criticality can lead to conflicts at work and home. If you’re struggling with perfectionism and have noticed it impacting your life—either at home, at work, or at school—please don’t hesitate to reach out and schedule an appointment for anxiety therapy.