Actually, What Is Perfectionism?

Have you ever been overly harsh on yourself for no reason, other than it is a bad habit of yours? If so, then you might have perfectionist tendencies.

Perfectionism is a type of behavior characterized by an incessant pursuit of unrealistic high standards and often an obsessive desire to achieve flawlessness or ideal outcomes in one’s life. It’s when you or others have impossible expectations of someone or of a situation. The impossible expectations mentioned in the last sentence are important to highlight as understanding where these impossible standards come from is key to freeing yourself from perfectionism. 

What Causes Someone to Become a Perfectionist?

The question as to why some people become perfectionists and others don’t is an interesting one. People who are purely defined by their achievements or who might be called overachievers tend to sometimes be people who struggle with perfectionist habits. Overachievers can sometimes be burdened with perfectionism due to their tendency to base their self-worth on a string of achievements. If you think about someone valuing themselves purely in terms of what they achieve, this is a highly transactional and unkind way of looking at yourself. Everyone has the right to make a mistake and to learn from it, whereas if you are constantly judging your self-worth as being dependent on a consistent string of achievements, you are telling yourself that you do not deserve to make mistakes or to take breaks. In fact, according to Professor Thomas Curran, who wrote a book entitled, ‘The Perfection Trap,’ the outbreak of the 2020 global pandemic, coupled with the curation culture of social media has worsened perfectionist tendencies among younger generations, due to feeling constantly compared to each other in their social life, as well as in their educational achievements.

How Can I Identify Perfectionist Behavior?

Perfectionism can manifest itself in subtle and unsubtle ways. For example, if you spill some coffee on your desk and if your immediate reaction is, ‘I can’t believe I just spilled coffee all over my desk. I’m such an idiot,’ this kind of negative self-talk could be a hint that you are unnecessarily harsh to yourself when you make mistakes. Negative self-talk is a way of speaking to yourself which is overly negative and designed only to criticize. Another way of identifying perfectionist habits or overly self-critical behavior is making note of when you overreact to something that you have done. 

How Can I Break a Cycle of Negative Self Talk?

Recognizing the moments when you engage in self-critical dialogue is your first step towards conquering perfectionist inclinations. We all have negative self-talk thoughts. It is only human to criticize yourself sometimes.

The main difference between negative self-talk and a healthy dose of self-reflection is the tone of the criticism.

For example, a self-reflective response to spilling some coffee on your desk could be, ‘I should slow down and be more careful towards myself and my work environment. Rushing unnecessarily is why I spilled my coffee this morning.’ The tone of this sentence is much more caring & understanding than the previous negative self-talk statement mentioned above: ‘I can’t believe I just spilled coffee all over my desk. I’m such an idiot.’ 

If you can determine the situations which lead you to having negative self-talk, then you are  on a very good path towards dealing with perfectionist tendencies. There is usually, not always, but very often, a pattern which leads to this kind of self-destructive behavior. Keep in mind that the path to healing is not a straight line, so don't lose hope if you encounter difficulties. Facing challenges is an integral aspect of the healing process. In time, you will have a breakthrough moment, however minor, where your self-care habits will emerge over your perfectionist tendencies.

5 Tips on How to Overcome Your Perfectionism

1. Take a Step Back

Perfectionists tend to overly criticize themselves and others, as a way to exert control either of the current situation or as a response to a previous time in their life, where their stress levels were too high.  It is therefore a self protective measure which originated from stress which happened to you in the past.  So, it is a learned behavior and what we call at charisme, an unhealthy coping strategy.

2. Accept That You are Human & Therefore Will Make Mistakes

Practicing self-compassion is one of the best coping methods of dealing with perfectionism. Everyone makes mistakes from time to time, so it’s important to recognise that making mistakes is not only part of what makes us human but making mistakes is also a sign you are trying new things or at least learning about what you can improve on.

3. Interrupt Negative Self-Talk with a Positive Affirmation

Trying to counteract negative self-talk with a positive affirmation can really help dampen the negative effects when you lapse into being self critical. Why not memorize a quote or positive affirmation which inspires you or even have it on your mobile phone, so it’s there for whenever you need it?


4. Try the 5:1 Rule for Positive & Negative Interactions

In Dr. John Gottmann’s famous study, he found that for couples to have content relationships, they need to have 5 positive interactions with each other for every 1 negative interaction. This simple ratio is a great formula to rely on, if you are having a bad day. If you experience a very negative interaction with someone, try to seek out positive interactions with others to balance out your day. As human beings, we often find ourselves overanalyzing negative experiences, searching for deeper meanings, when in reality, it could simply be a case of encountering someone having a bad day.

5. Spend Time with Someone Who Uplifts You

Invest in quality time with someone who respects you for who you are. People’s perception of us can be very subjective, so if you have had a bruising interaction with someone, try to reach out to someone who will celebrate you, rather than bashing you. 

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