Perfectionism: The Silent Saboteur of Mental Health – Why I Make It a Priority to Address This Issue as a Therapist
What would you feel if someone told you, "You're not good enough?" Does this soul-crushing statement linger with you even as you continue reading? As someone who has battled against perfectionism since I was young, I intimately understand the anguish and despair that the thought of not living up to the world's standards can bring. As a mental health worker, I've also seen firsthand how perfectionism can hurt a person's emotional health and lead to overwhelming feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness. That's why in my practice I make it a priority to address this issue head-on. Achieving harmony between striving for excellence and accepting our imperfections is possible; let me walk alongside you as we work towards finding that balance together.
What is perfectionism?
Notable shame researcher Brené Brown puts it best when she says,
“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.”
It is a shield that many of us lug around and must learn to let go of, and to dive deeper into why perfectionism is the silent saboteur of mental health, I want to start by discussing the signals that point to possible issues with perfectionism. While there are many potential signs, some of the most common indicators include:
What are the signs of perfectionism
- Constant self-criticism
- Hyper focusing on small details
- Sacrificing your mental health to achieve the perfect result
- Procrastination due to an inability to commit
- Setting ultra-high standards for oneself and/or others
- Being unable to receive compliments from family members or friends
- Comparing yourself unfavorably with others
Is perfectionism a mental disorder, and how can I identify if I might be a perfectionist?
Even though perfectionism alone isn't officially classified as a mental disorder, it may be a sign of mental health problems like OCD, anxiety, and others. So it’s important to understand perfectionism to help identify any underlying issues that may need to be addressed. Today, let’s boldly take the first step. As you read, ask yourself: Do any of these resonate with you?
- Self-Oriented Perfectionists - Self-oriented perfectionism is where individuals set very high, often unattainable, standards for themselves to avoid failure. These expectations are so rigorous that they leave no room for mistakes and demand flawless performance every time.
- Other-oriented perfectionists - Individuals with this specific kind of perfectionism are likely to harshly evaluate and reprimand others when they do not meet their unreasonably high standards.
- Socially Prescribed Perfectionists - Socially prescribed perfectionists strive to reach extremely high standards as they feel others expect of them - expectations that may not even exist in reality. They are battling a constant fear of disapproval and rejection, thus going the extra mile to abide by what is perceived in their mind rather than actual societal demands.
Perfectionism can be a strong and all-consuming force that makes people feel anxious, unhappy, helpless, or even suicidal. If any of these three feelings seem familiar to you, just know that you aren't alone in your struggles; perfectionism affects many of us, and at one point it even affected me.
Why do I focus on perfectionism in my therapy practice?
My childhood experiences have been invaluable in my career as a specialist in this field. When I was young, seeking approval and striving for excellence seemed like the only way to endure fear and humiliation and achieve love and acceptance; however, while effective at times, it created an unyielding attitude that suppressed my humanity.
Through my own work in therapy, I've been able to let go of my perfectionistic habits, and it has been so freeing! Breaking free of those habits has allowed me to heal my inner-child wounds and has allowed me to be the best mom, the best friend, and the best therapist I can be.
I focus heavily on helping clients break free from the pain of perfectionism because I want to provide relief to those who grew up feeling like the only way to achieve love and acceptance is by achieving perfection. It's simply not true. You deserve to be loved for exactly who you are.
Identifying and challenging perfectionistic habits like over-critiquing others or changing the language you use when talking about yourself can go a long way towards eliminating rigid standards that don’t really serve you in the long run. By taking action, you can begin to live authentically and take back control over your life.
Here are some helpful affirmations that have personally helped me and hopefully will help you on your perfectionism healing journey:
- "I am human & mistakes just come with being alive"
- "There is beauty in imperfections"
- "I am enough exactly as I am"
- "I am perfectly imperfect"
Speak this to yourself in the mirror as you get ready to embrace the day. By taking these small steps day by day, you are giving yourself permission to be radically and unapologetically imperfect, and you are ultimately giving yourself permission to show the world what you inherently are, good enough.
I understand that it's all too easy to get stuck in a spiral of constant self-criticism and negativity. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you feel like your perfectionism is getting in the way of living your best life. If you’re ready to regain control over your life, click below to schedule your free 20-minute consultation today.