Healthy striver versus unhealthy perfectionist?

What is perfectionism & is it healthy?

Many of us live in a culture, where achievement is highly valued and hard work is supposed to bring happiness. In this context, it is not surprising that perfectionism and perfectionists appear to have grown in number.

So is perfectionism good for you?

Perfectionism is not the healthy pursuit of excellence and the striving for achievement. It goes beyond that. There is nothing wrong with striving and success.

There is also no definite line between healthy striving and striving which becomes negative.  However unhealthy perfectionists are too dependent on the outcome of their achievements. They continue to pursue their standards, despite negative consequences for themselves and others.

For example, Jo held perfectionist standards about having a clean house. He spent his time feeling anxious, stressed and unable to enjoy the environment that he spent so long making perfect. His excessive concerns over how his house had to be perfect, led his friends to visit him less often, as they felt they could not relax in his home.

Ann worried excessively about failing at work, despite outward signs of her success. This led her to procrastinate about making decisions in case she got it wrong. Over time this led her to fall behind with deadlines and her boss started to notice.

Unhealthy perfectionism has an impact on the person's self worth, as they never live up to their impossible standards and can be highly critical of themselves. It can affect one area such as work, parenting or many areas.

Even when they do meet their standards, people who have unhealthy perfectionism will discount their achievements, thinking that their goal was not hard enough or that anyone could have achieved them. This leaves the person in a ‘no win’ situation, in which they feel like a failure whether they meet their standards or not.

Perfectionists often test out their performance by repeating tasks or checking for mistakes. They also sometimes compare themselves to others and seek reassurance from others, as to how well they have done.

Perfectionism can have many negative consequences:

Emotional – such as anxiety and depression

Social – such as isolation, as the person applies their standards to others sometimes, leading to discord.

Physical – such as insomnia, muscle tension, exhaustion, upset stomachs

Cognitive – such as poor concentration; rumination (about perceived mistakes); increased self – criticism; low self – esteem and judging yourself on ‘what you do’ not ‘who you are’.

Narrowed interests - due to focussing all ones time on one area, with wider pleasures being denied, as they are seen as wasteful.

Behavioural – such as repeated checking or re-writing to achieve the ‘perfect’ version; being over busy or spending time list making; putting off tasks (procrastinating) or avoiding tasks for fear of failure.
So do any of these examples seem familiar to you?

Take our brief questionnaire to see if you are a 'healthy striver' or if 'perfectionism' is spoiling your quality of life.

Healthy Striver versus Unhealthy Perfectionist Questionnaire

Answer 'yes' or 'no' to the following questions and take the test. Questions to ask to determine if you have unhealthy perfectionism are:

1. Do you continually try your hardest to achieve standards you have self imposed?

2. Do you focus on or notice what you have not achieved, rather than what you have achieved?

3. Do other people often tell you that your standards are too high? (sometimes it's best not to ask your parents or partner who may share your pattern).

4. Are you afraid of failing to meet your standards?

5. If you achieve your goal, do you set your standards higher next time?

6. Do you ever enjoy your achievements and for how long?

7. Do you base your self - esteem on striving and achieving?

8. Do you repeatedly check how well you are doing at meeting your goals?

9. Do you find that tasks consume more and more time, as you need to check that there are 'just right'?

10. Do you keep trying to meet your standards, even if it means you miss out on important things?

11. Do your standards cause other problems in your life such as relationship disharmony?

12. Do you tend to avoid tasks or put off doing them, in case you fail or because of the time you know it would take you to 'do it right'?

If the answer is 'yes' to many of these questions, it may be worth considering if your quality of life is being affected by unhealthy perfectionism.  Bear in mind that non - standardised questionnaires can be just a guide and are not designed to be a substitute for professional advice.

Perfectionism is an area which is difficult to change, but cognitive behavioural therapy is available to help.