Many believe perfectionism means “being perfect” or “doing things perfectly”. However, perfectionism is actually the pressure we put on ourselves to reach unattainable standards. These standards are almost never reached because they are unrealistic, leaving the person feeling like a failure. Many South Asians believe perfectionism is a strong and highly valued quality to have. Some do not recognize that they are perfectionists, believing that unreasonable standards are normal and commonplace.
Here are the most common signs of perfectionism:
Ruminating over mistakes. Perfectionists will often replay their mistakes in their head over and over, unable to move past it easily. They also mistakenly believe that by making mistakes they will lose the respect of others. Many perfectionists begin to avoid situations where these mistakes occurred In order to preserve their self confidence.
Unrealistic expectations. Perfectionists learn to have unreasonable standards from parents who are overly demanding or critical. This is very common in South Asian families where parents push their children to be number one at everything that they do. Because this is an unreasonable expectation, the children grow up believing that they are never good enough. They also mistakenly believe that not being perfect is the same as being flawed at the core, further lowering self esteem. It can also increase the desire to be even more perfectionistic, creating a vicious cycle and is very difficult to break.
Constant reassurance. People who strive for perfection usually have low self-esteem and tend to evaluate themselves as being flawed. To counter this, perfectionistic adults and children obsessively seek the approval from parents, teachers, supervisors, friends and other loved ones. They need to hear positive feedback frequently as a means to balance the negative evaluation they have of themselves.
Highly competitive. Perfectionists are extremely competitive with others and with themselves. In general, they have a difficult time tolerating doing worse than others professionally and personally. This can even exhibit itself during recreational sports and games that are purely meant for pleasure. Perfectionists begin to avoid activities out of fear of losing. Perfectionist, also called “sore losers” often look for reasons why someone won unfairly. They also have a need to always be right in discussions and arguments, which can have a damaging effect on relationships, both personally and professionally.
Stress, anxiety and mood problems. Because of the amount of pressure they put on themselves, perfectionists experience high levels of stress very frequently. This level of stress is correlated with physical ailments such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity. Perfectionists also have lowered immunity because of their high stress, resulting in frequent illnesses. Perfectionist also are more likely to suffer from a anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety, OCD or panic disorder. Finally, because perfectionists are so obsessed with reaching goals themselves, they appear to be very self-involved. This can make it very difficult to maintain a relationship with a perfectionist, meeting the person to feel alone. This increases the risk for developing depression and even experiencing or attempting suicide.
Perfectionism has a very negative impact on physical and emotional health as well as relationships. To combat perfectionism, parents should teach their children how to strive for the best while accepting that being perfect is not equivalent to success. Parents must teach their children how to accept mistakes in a healthy manner. Additionally, by modeling reasonable expectations and providing positive feedback to their children will grow with healthy self-esteem. Adults who realize they have perfectionistic tendencies can seek the help of a counselor to learn how to undo the ingrained habits and replace them with healthier self-evaluations.
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