“I’m a perfectionist.” A sentence that most probably you hear or say often. When somebody says this, in general it means that (s)he has high self-expectations and does not like to fail. We all have certain expectations of ourselves and others. This is often perceived as a good characteristic. However, sometimes it becomes a drawback, when ‘wanting to do well’ becomes ‘wanting to do everything perfect’.
Perfectionism is often defined as the need to be or appear to be perfect. It is not to be confused with striving to do your best, or trying to achieve healthy goals. Being a real perfectionist means that you feel (or actually are) incapable of performing a task unless you are 100% certain that you will do it perfectly. You strongly believe that you can never be good enough and that making a mistake is a sign of personal flaws. Besides this, you also feel the need to be perfect in every single aspect of your life. Working very hard and not wanting to make mistakes in your professional career is one thing. Constantly feeling like this at work, at home, with friends and family and with your children, could be a sign of unhealthy perfectionism.
As you can imagine, being a real perfectionist has a major (usally negative) impact. It impacts not only your professional life, but also your private life. Whatever you (need to) do, there is no space for mistakes or uncertainty, which causes a lot of stress and impairment. In fact, research shows that there is a relationship between perfectionism and pathological worry and anxiety (Handley et al, 2014).

Wanting to do well, wanting to work hard to reach a goal and not liking mistakes is understandable and nothing wrong with. When you feel that you can’t or don’t want to do a task unless you know it’s going to be perfect, and when you are convinced that making mistakes is unacceptable, you might want to consider seeking help. It will be just a matter of learning how to lower your standards!

– Esther is an assistant psychologist at Willingness. She works with adults and couples. She has a special interest in mental health. She can be contacted on esther@willingness.com.mt.