Dysfunctional perfectionism: causes, symptoms and treatment

Do you have a hard time doing nothing?Do you feel guilty for not doing what you think you should have done?

Are you never satisfied with what you do ?, When you achieve something that you set out to do, can you only enjoy it for a short time ?, Do you criticize yourself if you fail to do so? goal Are you paying too much attention to your mistakes? Do you feel failed if you don’t get what you set out for? Do you tend to leave things for tomorrow or for the last day?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, you may be interested in this article as you could have fallen into dysfunctional perfectionism. A phenomenon which, although not in itself a mental disorder, can lead to severe headaches.

    What is dysfunctional perfectionism?

    Dysfunctional perfectionism (“maladaptive perfectionism”) is the establishment and effort to meet overly exacting standards of quality. (Lofty goals) for oneself, who are self-imposed and relentlessly persecuted despite the suffering they generate.

    It involves focusing on mistakes rather than on the process and progress of the task, being overly self-critical when goals are not met (even calling success a failure), and valuing goal achievement in terms of all or nothing (“good” or “wrong” things). In addition, the perfectionist persists despite the occurrence of harmful consequences (social isolation, insomnia, depression …).

    Finally, it is about basing one’s self-esteem almost exclusively on the good that these high milestones are pursued or achieved. This means that the self-esteem of these people is very fragile and changeable: one day they may feel competent and happy to have achieved their goals, and the next day they may feel incompetent or failed and think they are “worthless.”.

    Areas of life in which you can be a perfectionist

    Perfectionism can be present in all aspects of life. Some people will only be perfectionists in one area, like work, but the most common is to have several vital axes in which perfectionism emerges.

    Here are some examples in which you may feel identified:

    • Work and / or studies: Make no mistakes at work, pretend to be the best, know everything, spend a lot of time on tasks to make them as perfect as possible …
    • Sport and exercise: Achieve a certain body (thin, thin, muscular …), devote superhuman efforts to achieve it, go to the gym every day religiously to achieve this goal, swim at least X kilometers per day …
    • Physical appearance and / or weight: Devote a lot of effort to take care of the physical appearance, even if less than “X” kilos, to always be in the latest fashion, to be perfectly combed and made up …
    • personal hygiene: Always be impeccable no matter what.
    • Friendships and social relations: Be your best friend, always be here unconditionally despite your own problems or obligations, always be “interesting and fun”.
    • Music and other entertainment: Spend hours and hours trying to compose the best musical song of the last century, throwing away what was composed because “it’s not good enough”.
    • Appearance of a person’s house: Excessive worrying when customers come home, having the house neatly tidy and clean, worrying about what customers may think …
    • Child care: Concern and efforts to be the best parent in the world.
    • Intel: Pretend you know everything perfectly, force yourself to read on particularly complex subjects …

    In short, any area that is important to that person. When dysfunctional perfectionism affects a hobby, such as music, it can become a hotbed of anxiety rather than pleasure. As long as the activity is carried out to achieve a very demanding (and in many cases, unrealistic) goal and does not benefit from the process itself, the activity may lose the playful and enjoyable connotation it had in the past. start.

    Most Important Components of Dysfunctional Perfectionism

    According to Shafran, Egan and Wade (2010), the essential components of dysfunctional perfectionism are:

    • Very high, demanding and self-critical quality standards
    • Efforts to meet high standards despite the negative effects on the person (suffering)
    • Base the self-assessment on the achievement or approach of these standards
    • Low tolerance for failure and / or mistakes, with corresponding excessive self-criticism
    • Cognitive rigidity
    • A careful bias towards the negative: they identify all the details that have gone wrong or that have taken them away from the high level. When the perfectionist goal is achieved, it is usually overlooked or tends to be understated
    • They are often called “fraud” or “failure as a person”.

    What are the high goals or standards?

    Setting goals and goals in life is quite natural, even adaptive, but in the case of perfectionists it can be a problem.. Look at it that way because by failing to achieve these goals, perfectionists can criticize themselves very unfairly, as if they are leading a life of penance and self-flagellation, and persist in their efforts despite suffering. The concept of “high goal” is very relative, as what may be demanding for one may not be for another (for example, to swim 4 miles a day may be very demanding and painful, but for Mireia Belmonte, it can be mind blowing and bottle making). What should be clear is that a standard is high when it is self-imposed by the perfectionist person, is seen as demanding (requires a lot of effort and sacrifice), and is rigidly pursued. But, Do demanding, self-imposed rules mean that I tend to have dysfunctional perfectionism? It is important to clarify that it is not enough that there are personally demanding rules to speak of dysfunctional perfectionism; a person may feel content in working to meet these standards and allow themselves to be flexible with their goals when the situation calls for it (Shafran, Cooper & Fairburn, 2002).

    Negative consequences of dysfunctional perfectionism

    Here are the most common negative consequences:

    • emotional: Depression (sadness, bad mood in general) and anxiety (agitation and stress).
    • social: Social isolation, loss of friends, competitiveness to be the best.
    • limited interest: Focus almost exclusively on one task (e.g., focus on work and don’t allow time to socialize) and limit enjoyable activities because they don’t allow you to pursue high goals (e.g., never read or watch a series without more reason to enjoy it).
    • physical: Exhaustion, muscle tension, digestive problems.
    • cognitive: Ruminating is common (thinking about repeated mistakes, reviewing them, criticizing oneself so as not to correct them in time), low concentration.
    • behavioral: Checks to detect errors, repetition of tasks, excessive time to do something, procrastination …

    One of the most popular global consequences is low self-esteem. In other words, perfectionism is not the cause of low self-esteem, but “feeds” it. A person with low self-esteem is more likely to take refuge in perfectionism in order to be good at something and thus be positively valued by themselves and others.

    Relationship to procrastination or postponement

    Procrastination, the habit of postponing tasks until the last moment, this is a very common behavior among perfectionists. The reasons why it is postponed are various:

    • Worry and fear of making a mistake or doing it wrong.
    • Thinking that the activity will take a long time due to our self-demand.
    • Be concerned that you can’t make things perfect.
    • If things don’t go the way you would like, you can always resort to the old excuse of “I left it for the last time, that’s why it didn’t go as well as I did.” ‘would have liked, not because I am not able. “

    Is there a treatment?

    Must have in note that dysfunctional perfectionism is not a disorder and therefore there is no specific treatment to manage it. However, we can speak of a psychological intervention aimed at modifying the habits and beliefs on which it is based.

    As each person has their own reasons for falling into extreme perfectionism, personalized attention is needed to change the way we relate to our expectations; in this way, intervention based on cognitive-behavioral models this is usually the most popular option, as it influences both internalized ideas and observable day-to-day actions.

    Bibliographical references:

    • Shafran, R., Cooper, Z. and Fairburn, CG (2002). Clinical perfectionism: cognitive-behavioral analysis. Behavioral Research and Therapy, 40, 773-791.
    • Shafran, R., Egan, S. and Wade, T. (2010). Overcoming Perfectionism: A Self-Help Manual Using Cognitive Behavioral Techniques. London: Robinson.
    • Egan, SJ, Wade, TD, Shafran, R. and Antony, MM (2014). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of perfectionism. New York: Guilford.

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