Signs that you are a perfectionist:
- Relentlessly striving for extremely high standards
- Judging your self-worth based on your ability to be ‘perfect’
- Experiencing negative consequences of the high standards set, yet not being able to stop
What’s really debilitating about perfectionism is the inability to accept ‘failure’ and the need to always earn the ‘gold star’, even when you know in your gut that you’re doing too much, you’re trying too hard and that you need to give it a rest.
To protect oneself, a perfectionist might adopt these negative behaviour traits:
- Struggle to make decisions (for fear of making the wrong one)
- Seek reassurance (need to be told you’re doing the right thing)
- Give up easily (if there are signs of imperfection, better to give up than struggle)
- Procrastinate (not start an assignment because it might be less than perfect)
- Avoidance behaviour (e.g., not entering a competition because you might fail)
Surely striving for excellence is a good thing, you might be thinking. Yes and no. Perfectionism is distinct from excellence in that the driving force is a deep desire to avoid failure.
For some, the deeply-engrained need to be perfect is because ‘success’ is seen to earn love/approval. This approval-seeking behaviour is likely to have formed in childhood when it became the norm or when it was modelled on someone else’s perceived perfection.
One can be a perfectionist in different areas of life; some go for academic perfection – this might be seen in exam results, in handwriting, in meticulous revision note-making. Others may display perfectionism in sports and fitness, appearance, grooming and weight, or in the home where not a single item is ever out of place. Few people will attempt perfection in every single category.