Why perfectionism continues

Earlier, we described a long list of difficulties associated with perfectionism. If perfectionism were all negative, it would easy to change. Yet, perfectionism can be difficult to change – because it can serve many positive functions at the same time as causing problems.

Here are some of the rewards of perfectionism that can make it so difficult to change.  Share your own experiences in the last column. Remember there are no wrong answers!

 
RewardDescriptionExampleYour own example
People’s admirationPeople are praised and reward for working hard and having high standards“She’s amazing – I don’t know how she does it – studies, cross-country, singing, and even winning awards in competitions!”
Gives a sense of controlEach day is predictable and focused on achievements“After school, I train for cross country for 2 hours, then for my choir practice for 1 hour before heading home for dinner. After dinner, I finish my homework and go to sleep.”
Brings achievementsHard work brings achievement and praise from families, friends and teachers“Look at Tricia, she must have put in a lot of hard work for her to be 3rd in Maths!”
Avoidance of feared people/situationsSpending time aiming for achievement leaves little time for meeting friends or being in new situations that may be increase anxiety“I won’t attend Sarah’s birthday party tomorrow because that’s not “being a good student” so I never go out to parties unless I have finished all my homework and read through next week’s readings.”
Avoidance of discovering feared aspects of selfMany people fear that they only do well because they work hard and that such work makes up for a lack of ability“I’ve done really well but it’s only because I train so hard – harder than all the other athletes. I’m sure I would do much worse if I didn’t put in so much effort. I don’t have real natural talent like some of the others. “
 
 

Apart from the many positive rewards related to perfectionism, perfectionism can be difficult to change because of fear. Often, a perfectionist only feels good about herself when she does well in something that if her perfectionism is taken away, it may seem like nothing of them is left! Here are some common fears that people have about having to give up or lower their standards:

  • They will let themselves completely slip and not perform at all
  •  They will become lazy
  •  Others will think they have let themselves go
  •  Others will stop praising them for doing well
  •  They will lose something they value (e.g. studies)
  • They will be filled with anxiety
  •  They will not achieve
  •  They will not progress in life
  •  They will be average

Well the good news is this program is NOT about lowering standards but is about giving you a choice to live your life, to learn to feel good about yourself from all areas in your life besides achievements and think about what is best for you and those around you.

Often it is the case that you are striving so hard and pushing yourself to such a degree that your performance can become poorer because of tiredness from working too hard towards your goals. Overcoming perfectionism can in fact help you be more effective and improve your performance!

It can be difficult to change, but we also know how hard it is not to change and continue to be a perfectionist. Therefore, this program encourages you to find out what happens if you make little changes – does the worst happen or do you get some pleasant surprises

 

TRICIA'S EXAMPLE

 

 

 

I realized that my previous belief that I wasn’t naturally clever and had to work extra hard to make up for it wasn’t true. I found out that I did better when I put some effort into the task but I didn’t do even better if I went over the top with my work.”