The Oxford English Dictionary defines “perfectionism” as “the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.”
I’m sure you know a perfectionist.
Perhaps you know you’re that type of person.
Or maybe you don’t see yourself as a perfectionist. You think your standards are normal and reasonable.
It’s just that everyone else is “dropping the ball”…
It’s not you, it’s them …
They’re under-functioning …
They’re not trying hard enough …
Being a perfectionist has a lot of potentially obvious costs. You work long hours. You suffer stress and overwhelm. Deep satisfaction always seems to allude you.
Now, a lot of people don’t see perfectionism as a real problem.
Is that you?
Do you rationalize the negative consequences of perfectionism as the natural price of achievement and success?
Perhaps you feel the world will “fall apart” if you chose to behave differently?
Conventionally, when perfectionism is discussed in a therapy or coaching environment, the goal is often just to get the person to reduce “unsustainable standards”. An effort is made to “get a work life balance”.
These attempts usually end up going nowhere.
I’ve always felt uncomfortable about the idea of trying to talk somebody out of having high standards. That approach is too much like pathologizing anyone who wants to shoot for interesting new realms.
Where would we be if that approach had been applied to Einstein or Newton?
Would Edison have pushed through the 1000s of attempts to create the light bulb?
For me, it’s important to know whether the healthy pursuit of excellence has actually moved into the realm of toxic perfectionism. We need to determine if this shift is the natural consequence of the pursuit of excellence.
Is the pursuit of excellence creating enormous levels of stress, anxiety and interpersonal dysfunction? If so, we’re talking about a toxic level of perfectionism.
There’s plenty of new research and thinking going on around the subject of perfectionism.
Today, through evidence-based psychology, perfectionism is broken down into two key components.
The first component is the traditional one just discussed concerning the extremely high standards one sets for oneself.
The second component concerns our own reaction to ourselves for falling short of those standards.
This research shows us that how the two components interact is extremely important.
In fact, it can make all the difference.
People with high standards and high self-criticism score worse on all manner of psychological factors. Conditions like depression, shame and anxiety can hit these people hard. They often get lower scores for feelings of hope, joy and a whole host of other positive emotions.
However, for people with high standards and low levels of self-criticism when they fall short, their scores for depression, shame and anxiety are lower. They also tend to score higher for levels of optimism and other positive emotions.
It’s important to note that toxic perfectionism is not the “high standards” we have been led to believe for so many years in psychology.
Toxic perfectionism is like a self-critical orientation when we fall short.
This is where we need to focus our attention.
The idea of reducing self-criticism with self-compassion becomes a pragmatic, high performing approach. It’s not some woolly, mediocre or soft option. It is a powerful way to manage stress and overwhelm. In fact….
It can be your superpower.
I’ll be talking a lot about this in the future. So, drop your best email in the updates form above and I’ll send you the latest.
I’m also putting together the “Optimal Mind” book which will really take a deep dive on the subject.
Until then, engage your superpower and show yourself some self-compassion, starting now.
Feeling overwhelmed or stressed?
Struggling with your own perfectionism?
Find out how Angus Munro Psychology can help you find ways through to a better way of living.
Or call direct on 0290 561 779