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Are you a perfectionist?

By Haneen Mas’oud , Family Flavours - Jan 12,2020 - Last updated at Jan 12,2020

Photo courtesy of Family Flavours magazine

High achievers tend to hold one’s self and others to high standards. The problem is when the need to be perfect gets in the way of one’s mental health, well-being and relationships.


Signs to perfectionism


• Having an incessant need to always achieve more and never make mistakes 

• Not being satisfied with what one accomplishes

• Setting high standards for themselves, others and the world, yet, those standards are not possible to achieve, resulting in a high level of stress that affects daily functioning 

• Experiencing a dysfunctional way of thinking — seeing things in black or white with zero tolerance for an in-between option 

• Having (for some people) recurrent, intrusive thoughts of getting things done perfectly (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD)


The costs of being a perfectionist


Feeling stressed can affect one physically (headaches, pain, sleeping difficulties, muscle tension) and psychologically (depression and anxiety).

It is not easy for a perfectionist to accept the fact that things can’t always go the way they want to, which is why they get more stressed than others when dealing with negative life events like a death of a loved one, or a major change in their lives, which they don’t easily bounce back from.


Common characteristics of perfectionism


• Self criticism: Perfectionists tend to be highly self critical, feel they’re not good enough and doubt their abilities, all reinforcing feelings of worthlessness and shame. A perfectionist’s self worth is usually determined by her or his accomplishments

• Procrastination: The tendency to procrastinate tasks and errands is common among perfectionists. They fear being unable to complete a task perfectly, so they put it off as long as possible

• Conflict avoidance: Perfectionists tend to avoid conflicts by doing things to meet others’ expectations, pleasing people and being liked by them, all efforts to deal with their feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. Perfectionists do not express their thoughts and needs to avoid being rejected by others so they can feel better about themselves


Why do people become perfectionists?


A combination of genetics and environmental factors predispose a person to think or behave perfectly. Parenting styles and childhood experiences can play a great role — the unrealistic expectations from parents, culture or even one’s self. Having demanding parents or families where there are strict rules and high expectations of children can also affect the tendency of individuals to be perfectionists.

Perfectionism can also be learned. Having perfectionist parents can affect children and make them embrace these traits, as parents are role models for children, especially at an early stage of their lives.


Dealing with perfectionism


• Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) with a therapist: CBT focuses on the pattern of thoughts a person has — recording negative perfectionist thoughts, identifying thinking traps or cognitive distortions and fighting these thoughts by replacing them with more realistic thoughts

• Self compassion: Be gentle on yourself

• Self forgiveness: Forgiving yourself for the things that you think you could have done better

• Self assertiveness: Focusing on the ability to say no to others, prioritising yourself and putting your needs before others

• Strategy to circumvent procrastination: Following the five-minute rule; allow yourself to spend only five minutes doing a task that you have been procrastinating. Then, after five minutes, it is up to you to decide to continue the task or stop. Getting started is always hard so those five minutes can serve to motivate you


Reprinted with permission from Family Flavours magazine

By Haneen Mas’oud

Clinical Psychologist

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