Recently, we discussed Imposter Syndrome; this may be inextricably linked with beliefs surrounding the necessity of being perfect.  All the time. Perfectionism is NOT the same things as having high standards and striving to achieve one’s goals.  Instead, clinical perfectionism (as defined by Shafran, Cooper, and Fairburn) refers to the over-reliance on our own evaluations of personal achievement based on a standard of perfection.  When these expectations of perfection are not met, they are followed by self-critical thoughts such as: “I’m a terrible employee/spouse/parent/child/sibling” or “I have disappointed myself or my parents/boss/children/siblings/spouse”.  These thoughts have a negative impact on stress levels and/or mood, and can subsequently erode self-esteem.  

When you evaluate your performance do you use 2 dichotomous indicators (e.g success vs. failure)?

  • Do you believe you should not make mistakes?
  • Are you concerned that your mistakes will lead to disastrous consequences?
  • Are your personal standards quite different than the standards you apply to others?
  • Do you check and recheck and then check and recheck over and over again?
  • Do you spend 2 hours on a task that takes someone else 20 minutes to complete?
  • Do you avoid new things for fear of making a mistake?
  • Do you find that once you meet a standard, you deem it insufficiently demanding?

If you answered yes to these questions, you might be experiencing symptoms associated with clinical perfectionism.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps people understand the thoughts that maintain one’s biased perception of their performance.  In my work, I use CBT to help people explore new ways of evaluating their performance and to work collaboratively to generate individualized plans to achieve goals.

Next week, we will talk about how perfectionism is inextricably linked to procrastination

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