Did you know?
Every year, the first year class at the University of Michigan is full of students from around the state, country and world who have achieved some of the highest grades, standardized test scores, and awards available.
Without a doubt, U-M campuses are full of bright students, academic pressures, and high expectations for success. However, contrary to popular belief, perfection is not required to succeed.
- Do you feel like what you accomplish is never quite good enough, that you “could have done better?”
- Do you find yourself completing your papers or projects at the last minute, waiting to make them just right?
- Do you feel you must give more than 100% on everything you do or else you will be mediocre or even a failure in comparison to others?
If so, rather than simply working toward success, you may be trying to be perfect, and there exists quite a difference between aiming for a successful life and trying to achieve perfection.
Perfectionism: How Does it Feel?
Of course we all want to be successful and produce good work in our everyday lives. Setting high expectations can be motivating and quite healthy. However, when taken to the extreme, our productivity can actually decrease. Perfectionists frequently experience many of the symptoms listed below:
- Fear of failure. Perfectionists often equate failure to achieve their goals with a lack of personal worth or value.
- Fear of making mistakes. Perfectionists often equate mistakes with failure. In orienting their lives around avoiding mistakes, perfectionists miss opportunities to learn and grow.
- Fear of disapproval. If they let others see their flaws, perfectionists often fear that they will no longer be accepted. Trying to be perfect is a way of trying to protect themselves from criticism, rejection, and disapproval.
- All-or-none thinking. Perfectionists frequently believe that they are worthless if their accomplishments are not perfect. Perfectionists have difficulty seeing situations in perspective. For example, a “straight A” student who receives a “B” might believe, “I am a total failure.”
- Overemphasis on “shoulds.” Perfectionists’ lives are often structured by an endless list of “shoulds” that serve as rigid rules for how their lives must be led. With such an overemphasis on shoulds, perfectionists rarely take into account their own wants and desires.
- Believing that others are easily successful. Perfectionists tend to perceive others as achieving success with a minimum of effort, few errors, emotional stress, and maximum self-confidence. At the same time, perfectionists view their own efforts as unending and forever inadequate.
The Vicious Cycle of Perfectionism and Self Esteem
If you are a perfectionist, it is likely that you learned early in life that other people valued you because of how much you accomplished or achieved, meaning you may have learned to value yourself only on the basis of other people’s approval. Thus your self-esteem may have come to be based primarily on external standards. This can leave you vulnerable and excessively sensitive to the opinions and criticism of others. In attempting to protect yourself from such criticism, you may decide that being perfect is your only defense.
Below is a cycle that perfectionists often find themselves experiencing and some other consequences of perfectionism.
- First, perfectionists set unreachable goals, failure is inevitable.
- They fail to meet these goals because the goals were impossible to begin with.
- The constant pressure to achieve perfection and the inevitable chronic failure reduce productivity and effectiveness.
- This cycle leads perfectionists to be self-critical and self-blaming which results in lower self-esteem. It may also lead to anxiety and depression.
- Perfectionists may give up completely on their goals and set different goals thinking, “This time if only I try harder I will succeed.” Such thinking sets the entire cycle in motion again.
Consequences of Perfectionism