Perfectionism refers to the need to be or appear to be perfect, or even to believe that it’s possible to achieve perfection.

It’s often viewed as a positive rather than a negative personality trait but in reality, it should not be confused with the desire to be a high achiever.

As these quotes suggest there is a much- ignored dark side (some would say toxicity) to perfectionism.

What it is, what it isn’t & why it’s a problem.

“Perfectionism is not a quest for the best, it is the pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough-that we should try harder.”
Julia Cameron (writer)

“Perfectionism is about fear – fear of making a mistake, fear of disappointing others, fear of failure, fear of success.”
Michael Law

“Perfectionism is self-doubt in a pretty dress.”
Carole-Ann Rice (Life coach)

“Perfectionism is self- abuse of the highest order.”
Anne Wilson Schaef

“There is no space for peace when perfectionism is a priority.”
Christian Bosse

“Perfectionism is taught to children when they are punished for their mistakes.”

“Striving for excellence feels wonderful because you are trying your very best.
Perfectionism feels terrible because your work is somehow never quite good enough.”

“Perfectionism is not the path that leads us to our gifts and sense of purpose; it’s the hazardous detour.”
Brene Brown

How to recognise it in yourself.

  1. Situations are ‘all or nothing’ for perfectionists. “Almost perfect” is failure. You win or lose. There is no middle ground.

  2. Perfectionists are very critical of themselves and others. They struggle to be proud of their achievements and focus instead on their mistakes. When they do make mistakes, they tend to be very hard on themselves, wallow in negative feelings and find it hard to bounce back.

  3. Perfectionists are totally goal focused. Getting there & avoiding failure is the most important thing. Their own sense of self-worth is dependent on their achievements and results. They are unable to enjoy the journey.

  4. Perfectionists are driven by fear of failure whilst others are attracted by a desire to achieve their goals and are happy with any steps they make in the right direction.

  5. Perfectionists tend to set unrealistic standards for themselves.

  6. Paradoxically perfectionists are prone to procrastination and put things off because they prefer to stay in their comfort zone to avoid the possibility of doing something imperfectly and failing to reach their goal.

  7. Being less than perfect is so painful and scary to perfectionists (because it’s linked so directly to their self-worth) that they tend to react very defensively to even constructive criticism.

  8. Perfectionists tend to suffer from low self-esteem. Their constant self-criticism and sense of failure can leave them feeling guilty and worthless and their critical nature and rigidity can affect the quality of their relationships, further adding to their unhappiness.

Perfectionism can rob you of your peace of mind, enjoyment of life, and self-esteem.

What to do if you do see some of these traits in yourself & want to change.

  1. Make a list of all the ways that perfectionism may be hurting you & those around you.

  2. Make a note of your perfectionist thoughts either as they arise or by looking back at the end of the day. Remember the times when you felt you had failed/ hadn’t done well enough & try to recall your thoughts at the time. Try to spot anything that triggered those thoughts & note that down too.

  3. Practice focussing on the positives. If you notice something you don’t like about yourself or your work, for example, look for five other qualities that you do like. This will balance out your critical focus and become a positive new habit.

  4. Celebrate the victories and the progress made.

  5. Focus on what you do know and what you can do.

  6. Alter your negative inner dialogue (NID). Practice self- compassion, self-respect and self-love.

  7. Reset your goals. Move away from the unrealistic/rigidly demanding. Set smaller ‘bite sized’ goals for yourself & reward yourself when you achieve them. Recognise that ideals are directions not absolutes.

  8. Enjoy the process. Try connecting with other people who are trying to achieve the same thing or journal about how you feel and what you learn as you move towards your goal.

  9. Learn to handle criticism by changing your attitude towards it. Move away from seeing it as an attack & recognise it can be a useful aid to improving your performance. Remind yourself that mistakes are a great way to learn.

And finally, two further related quotes with their own perspective.

“The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection.”
George Orwell

“Perfectionism is God’s business. We are human!”