This post contains top root causes of perfectionism along with helpful tips to help you overcome perfectionism.
What Is Perfectionism?
Merriam-Webster defines ‘Perfectionism’ as “a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable”
Perfectionism is often seen as a “positive flaw.” Many people would declare their perfectionism as a flaw yet secretly they take pride in it.
However, perfectionism is irrational, restrictive, and often destructive.
It makes you not take chances and procrastinate on projects.
It stresses you out and makes you constantly doubt yourself.
Related: Am I A Perfectionist Quiz
Root Cause of Perfectionism
Just like any other form of psychopathology, there isn’t one single foctor that causes perfectionism. A combination of biological (e.g., genetics) and psychological (e.g., learning) factors play a role:
1. Perfectionistic Parenting
A number of studies found that critical and perfectionistic parenting – where one or both parents have high standards for themselves and/or their children – was a predictive of maladaptive perfectionism. (*)
2. Social Factors
Some studies suggest that perfectionism could be caused by social factors. These could be positive such as being rewarded for meeting high standards, or negative, such as being punished for failing to be perfect.
For most people it a combination of both positive and negative consequences. Initially, you may want to achieve simply for the positive rewards (e.g., feelings of success, praise, raises, promotions, etc.).
However, over time, you may become more concerned about failing and letting people down.
In general, when perfectionists meet a particular standard, they tend to respond by raising that standard, which may lead to increased fear of failure.
Those who are secure in themselves have a positive affirmation bias and are less likely to struggle with perfectionism.
This means they are more likely to assume good things about themselves before thinking about anything negative. They don’t focus on their flaws as much as perfectionists do.
Perfectionists, on the other hand, believe that they can’t feel confident or live well when they have a certain flaw. They believe that they need to be perfect before they can feel good about themselves.
4. Inferiority Complex
Google Dictionary defines an inferiority complex as “an unrealistic feeling of general inadequacy caused by actual or supposed inferiority in one sphere, sometimes marked by aggressive behavior in compensation.”
People who have inferiority complex perceive themselves as worse than other people and are more likely to be hard on themselves.
As a result, they’ll try to compensate by either (1) trying to be perceived as superior and intimidating others, or (2) hiding.
When you feel unfulfilled in your life, you risk using perfectionism as a coping mechanism.
Facing your flaws and owning up to an imperfect Self can be painful, especially so when you already feel discontent.
How to Overcome Perfectionism?
1. Recognize That Nobody Is Watching
There is something in psychology known as the “spotlight effect.”
This is when someone overestimates how much others notice aspects of one’s appearance or behavior.
In reality, everyone is focused on themselves and most people are busy worrying about what others think about them.
Acknowledging the fact that nobody is really paying attention to you or watching you can help you worry less about what others think.
2. Offer Yourself Self-Compassion
Although we would like to never make a mistake or fail, truth is these mistakes are our way to learn and grow.
Offer yourself self-compassion by accepting mistakes as part of your learning process.
Acceptance doesn’t mean you’re giving yourself permission to become a sloth and do nothing.
Acceptance is about acknowledging what happened and focusing on what you need to do next, rather than remaining stuck, berating yourself over something that has already happened.
Self-compassion is also about recognizing the shared humanity in making mistakes.
You’re not alone in making mistakes. It’s something everyone deals with.
3. Challenge Your Inner Critic
Perfectionism arises when the bully voice inside our heads fills us with self-doubt.
This voice repeats to you everything bad people said about over the years. It says you should do this or you can never do that. It compares you unfavorably to other people.
This voice fills you with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt and stops you from trying new things, for fear of failure.
It’s important to stop listening and start talking.
Notice any critical thoughts you may have and challenge them.
The following questions can help you question the validity of your critical thoughts:
- Is this thought necessarily true?
- What is the evidence for and against this thought?
- Are there other ways of thinking about the situation?
- What might I say to someone else who was in this same situation?
4. Use Exposure
One of the best ways to overcome your fears is to face them.
When you do what you fear, you challenge your limiting beliefs and get to see for yourself that consequences weren’t as bad as you predicted.
For instance, if you’re often paralyzed by the fear of making spelling mistakes in your e-mails, deliberately making a mistake can help you see that consequences weren’t as bad as you predicted. As a result, you’re more likely to feel less and less afraid in the future.
When using exposure, make sure you take incremental steps. Start with the least perfectionism-provoking situation until you’re no longer paralyzed by your perfectionism before moving on to the next perfectionism-provoking situation.
We live in a society that celebrates perfection.
In an ideal world, we would like to be perfect and be happy with ourselves, but in the real world, failing is an integral part of life.
Failure and mistakes are a source of learning and growth.
The best solution here is to accept your imperfection, offer yourself self-compassion, and allow yourself to learn from your mistakes.
- Portions of this article were adapted from the book How to Be an Imperfectionist, © 2015 by Stephen Guise. All rights reserved.