The term perfectionism is commonly used for a person who strives to achieve best performance in everything. Perfectionism can be present in every aspect of life - work, study, relationships, exercise, appearance or any area that is important to the person.
Perfectionism can also be about CONTINUALLY striving to achieve high standards that the person has set for themselves, despite NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES and this often goes hand in hand with SELF CRITICISM where the person perceives that the required standards have not been met. Thus one of the most problematic aspects of perfectionism is where SELF ESTEEM is based on the achievement of these standards.
Unhelpful perfectionism

Unhelpful perfectionism can be seen as the setting of, and striving to meet, very demanding standards that are self imposed and relentlessly pursued despite causing problems.

It involves basing one’s self esteem almost exclusively on how well these high standards are pursued and achieved. Often perfectionists will pursue their goals but at the same time will fear potential failure. Even when the goal is achieved, perfectionists often discount the achievement, maybe by thinking the goal was not hard enough or that anyone could have achieved it. This may result in the goal becoming more difficult the next time.

If your self worth is based on striving and achievement and you pursue you goals relentlessly and dismiss any achievement, you are in a no win situation in that you are likely to feel a failure whether you meet your standards or not!

Demanding standards can differ among people, but for the perfectionist they will be personally demanding. What is important is that it is YOU who sets the standard and it is YOU who perceives them as demanding.

Goals and standards are a normal part of life. The problem here is not failure but the self criticism that ensues. Perfectionists usually focus on the negatives and those goals that the perceive have not been met. This can result in “I should have done better” or “I am a failure because I did not get an A in that exam”.

Perfectionists often strive for things knowing that negative consequences will ensue. These negative effects can sometimes reinforce the perfectionism. Take an example, if you are really tired, it may be taken as evidence of pushing oneself to the limit. If you are someone with unhelpful perfectionism you will tend to judge yourself on what you do and not who you are...

Why am I like this?

Perfectionism can often be the result of anxiety in that a strategy develops where achieving perfectionism results in a short term decrease in anxiety. This reinforces the perfectionistic behaviour and a cycle starts where increasing levels of perfectionism are required to keep the anxiety at bay. This cycle always breaks down and results in what the perfectionist fears most, imperfection or perceived failure, which in many people can lead to depression and other disorders. Even at this stage the person will still cling to perfectionism as their lifeline resulting is rapid downward spiral.

Good news!

Perfectionism is treatable and CBT is the treatment of choice. At Cork Cognitive Therapy we have developed a modular programme for perfectionism which is very successful. Get some help as the prognosis is not good and it won't get better on it's own.