If you’re seeking relief for perfectionism at work, you’re in the right spot. In this blog, we’ll walk you through the simple steps you can take with help or on your own. The method we recommend most has been used many times by our Houston therapists. But first, what is perfectionism, actually?
What is Perfectionism?
Put simply, perfectionism is the name we give to a set of symptoms. These may include an intense fear of failure, fear of not living up to your (or someone’s else’s) standards and procrastinating on important tasks.
This is separate from the connotation of a perfectionist who burns the midnight oil to make sure everything works out smoothly.
We often hear about this side of perfectionism – the high-achieving overworker. But we want to stress that there are many other ways perfectionism can play out. That’s the focus of this blog.
Here are some more symptoms of perfectionism:
- Low Self-Esteem, which acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you have low self-esteem, you’re more likely to be a perfectionist. And if you’re a perfectionist, you likely focus on the negative which can be a factor in low self-esteem.
- Relationship Difficulties. If you attempt to make your partner perfect, this can cause tension and resentment. If you try to be perfect for your partner, this can be a barrier to true intimacy and fulfillment.
- Stress and Anxiety from feeling pressured to perform, either by self or others.
- Burnout due to constant striving and lack of time off and self-care.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Eating Disorders
It’s important to note that perfectionism is not simply being a high achiever. The main difference is in the place that motivation comes from. If you’re a high achiever, your motivation likely comes from realistic goals and enjoyment in the process of reaching them.
But if you’re a perfectionist, your motivation is likely to come from fear. Additionally, those with perfectionistic traits tend to have a hard time enjoying their successes.
What are the Types of Perfectionism?
Researchers say there are 3 types of perfectionism.
For one, there’s personal standards perfectionism. This is usually considered a more “healthy” form of perfectionism and is chosen internally, not externally enforced. Feeling motivated to achieve your high personal standards is a buffer against burnout and stress.
If you have this type, attempts at perfection are seen as an exciting challenge rather than a harsh self-standard.
Next, there’s self-critical perfectionism. If you have this type of perfectionism, you may feel intimidated and hopeless about your goals. This can be followed by issues like anxiety, stress, self-condemnation and more. Negative and unforgiving self-talk can be common.
Lastly, there’s what’s called socially prescribed perfectionism.
Socially prescribed perfectionism is placed on one person by another. A good example is a doctor, who is under intense pressure to be precise by his employer and industry standards. Thoughts of hopelessness, stress, self-harm, or worse can be present.
One common source of socially prescribed perfectionism is high social or cultural expectations. If your parent/primary caregiver had high expectations of you, this may have caused perfectionism.
If you’re reading this article, you may be dealing with the latter two types. Before we talk about how to end perfectionism, let’s see when perfectionism can be a problem.
The Problem with “Perfect”
Perfectionism, as mentioned above, can lead to a lot of mental health challenges.
These include feeling the pressure to be, appear, or feel perfect. But they can also include excessive self-criticism and a lack of self-compassion.
Ironically, unhealthy perfectionism can make it harder for you to achieve your goals. This is because you spend so much time worrying about things that don’t move you closer to your goals. One example is spending an hour ensuring an email has no typos.
Perfectionism can lead to anxiety and depression. It’s also been linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder and low self-esteem.
If you’re not sure whether you experience negative perfectionism, ask yourself:
- Is it hard for me to enjoy my accomplishments?
- Do I constantly or often criticize myself harshly, even if just in my head?
- Do I often spend twice as much time (or more) than others to complete the same task?
- Am I afraid of criticism from others? Is it hard for me to accept feedback without becoming defensive?
If you’ve answered yes to these questions, you may be experiencing perfectionism. We recommend seeking professional help to get the support you need. More on that below.
What Causes Perfectionism?
There are many causes of perfectionism:
- Having a critical parent/caregiver(s)
- Seeking love through being perfect
- Low self-esteem/feeling inadequate
- Coupling self-worth with achievements
- High need for control/fear of losing control
- Fear of judgment and disapproval from others
- Having OCD, which is associated with perfectionism
- Attachment problems with either or both parents/caregivers in childhood
A common denominator for perfectionism’s symptoms seems to be motivation by fear. Whether that’s fear of failure, fear of loss of self-esteem or approval, or fear of losing control, fear drives perfectionism.
So, now that we’ve covered the important details, how do you overcome perfectionism at work?
How to Stop Being a Perfectionist at Work
Whether you’re an employee, a manager, or higher up the corporate chain, perfectionism can negatively impact your work.
Perfectionism at work can take the form of intense inner pressure to perform and exceed expectations. It can also take the form of micromanaging colleagues, so their work is to your liking.
Because both expressions of perfectionism can be stressful, they can lead to burnout. If you want to avoid burnout, here are some tips to help you stop being a perfectionist at work:
- Learn how to say “No” to projects that don’t inspire you.
- Let go of micromanaging others by giving them freedom – with clear expectations.
- Repeat positive and realistic mantras like “the first draft doesn’t need to be perfect,” “I can delegate to my employees and trust that they’ll get it done,” and “I’ve handled projects of this size before.”
- Take time off to recharge and do self-care, such as yoga, meditation, taking your kids to get ice cream, or reconnecting with your spouse.
With these tips, you’re on your way to overcoming perfectionism at work. But if you really want to tackle it, we recommend therapy.
CBT for Perfectionism at Work
If you’re interested in getting help for your perfectionism, therapy can help: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been proven to help and is an offering here at Destination Therapy in Houston.
In CBT, your therapist will help you increase your awareness of your perfectionistic thinking. Then, they will help you isolate some themes and beliefs that drive your perfectionism. Finally, they will help you break free from these beliefs and reduce your perfectionism over time.
We’ll create a unique treatment plan for you. Depending on your needs, we can use CBT in addition to other modalities to help you achieve your goals.
The benefit of having a therapist with you is that they hold you accountable and catch any blind spots you may have.
Additionally, a good therapist acts as a role model for healthy thinking, and can teach you self-compassion, which is an effective antidote to perfectionism.
By letting go of perfectionistic thinking, you can experience more ease and joy in your life. You may find yourself enjoying your accomplishments, being more patient with yourself and others, and relieving some symptoms like anxiety, stress, and depression.
Bonus: How to Overcome Perfectionism at Home
In this bonus section, we’ll share one technique used in CBT for perfectionism. We hope that this will give you some relief, and may show you that change is possible.
Now, If you’re working on your perfectionism at home, try becoming aware of your thoughts. All it takes is a few seconds or minutes to focus your attention.
Then notice which thoughts may come from perfectionism. These can sound like “I need to get this right/perfect” or “If I don’t finish by 3pm my boss is gonna kill me!” Start challenging any perfectionistic ones.
For example, you may have the thought “I have to do tomorrow’s presentation with zero errors or mistakes.” In this instance, challenge that thought!
Instead, you can tell yourself “Everyone makes mistakes, and it only proves that they are human. I’m the same, and it’s okay if I make a mistake during my presentation.”
Over time, this can help train your thoughts to be more optimistic yet realistic. Looking for the worst possible outcome leads to unhappiness, so it’s good to train your brain to do the opposite..
Perfectionism is a tough challenge to tackle on your own. However, it can be overcome with some effort and the right support. This blog covers many of the most popular ways people have combatted their own perfectionism.
And if you’re ready for help and don’t want to fight perfectionism alone, Destination Therapy is here to help. Our Houston Therapists have helped countless clients overcome perfectionism for good. Let us help you too.