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Is Perfectionism Holding You Back?

Updated on January 22, 2010
Are you a perfectionist or a high achiever?
Are you a perfectionist or a high achiever?

Perfectionist or High Achiever?

I had not thought of myself as a perfectionist until someone asked me recently if I was one. I paused briefly, thinking out loud I said "I might have some perfectionist traits..." My voice trailed off as I had never thought about the personality traits of a perfectionist. I've heard the term and perhaps had used it to describe others, but not myself. He then proceeded to read a paragraph that described how the perfectionist personality may be formed and some of their characteristics. I suddenly realized that I maybe a perfectionist. Here was a realization that was going to shed some light on one of my dominant personality trait. I took up his challenge to read up on the topic.

Webster online dictionary defines a perfectionist as "a person who is displeased by anything that does not meet very high standards".

Perfectionism is the quality of wanting to be perfect. It is the tendency to set high standards and to be dissatisfied with anything that does not meet those high standards. Those high standards are often unrealistic. (

Perfectionism can be positive in that it causes us to care about our work and to do our best. It is only when the desire to be perfect is unrealistic and causes anxiety that it becomes a problem. To determine if you are a perfectionist you can follow the link to and take the perfectionism quiz.., identifies the ten personality traits of the perfectionist:

1. All or Nothing Thinking: Perfectionists will set high goals and accept nothing less than, perfection. ‘Almost perfect’ is seen as failure.

2. Critical eye: Perfectionists are critical of themselves and of others. They focus on the imperfections and have trouble seeing anything else, and they are more judgmental and hard on themselves and on others when ‘failure’ does occur.

3."Push" Vs "Pull": Perfectionists are usually pushed toward their goals by a fear of not reaching them, and see anything less than a perfectly met goal as a failure.

4. Unrealistic Standards: Perfectionists often set their initial goals out of reach and experience much stress and unhappiness in pursuit of their goals.

5. Depressed by Unmet Goals: Perfectionists can become depressed, less resilient and unhappy when faced with disappointment. They tend to beat themselves up much more and wallow in negative feelings when their high expectations go unmet.

6. Fear of Failure: Perfectionists place so much stock in results and become disappointed by anything less than perfection, failure becomes a very scary prospect. The fear of failure can lead to them giving up in frustration.

7. Procrastination: Perfectionists will sometimes worry too much about doing something imperfectly that they become immobilized and fail to do anything at all.

8.Defensiveness: Perfectionists tend to take constructive criticism defensively, failing to see criticism as valuable information to help their future performance.

9. Low Self esteem: Perfectionists tend to be very self-critical and unhappy, and suffer from low self-esteem. They can also be lonely or isolated, as their critical nature and rigidity can push others away as well.

10. Focus on Result: Perfectionists are usually more concerned about meeting the goal and avoiding the dreaded failure that they can’t enjoy the process of growing and striving.

Overcoming Perfectionist Tendencies

While being a perfectionist can be beneficial to achieving your goals, if left unchecked it can rob you of joy and cause enormous amount of stress. The key to balance perfectionist traits is to become aware of your tendencies to be negative or pessimistic.

Become an Inverse Paranoid: Jack Canfield in his book The Success Principles, described "inverse paranoid",as being able to see difficulties and challenges in a positive way. Looking at failures or challenges as they were meant to enrich and empower your life. The challenge for perfectionists, therefore is to change their beliefs and attitudes and become more optimistic. Those who are prone to be perfectionists, must rid themselves of self-doubts and fears of disapproval,ridicule, and rejection and look to see the joy, wonderment and excitement in all of their life's experiences.

Learn to Handle Criticism: states that an attitude change towards criticism can help those with perfectionist tendencies. They should look at criticism not as an attack,and react defensively, but rather should see the value. They argue that constructive criticism can give you important clues on how to improve your performance, making your less-than-perfect performances into useful stepping stones that lead to excellence. If the criticism you’re receiving is pointed or harsh, it’s okay to remind others (and yourself) that mistakes are opportunities to learn.

Acknowledge Your Positive Past: Jack Canfield, In his book, The Success Principles, posits that acknowledging your positive past can help to overcome some of the perfectionist tendencies. Perfectionists tend to have a negative self talk which is rooted in a strong fear of failure. They sometimes set unrealistic goals and as a result they may experience some setbacks. These setbacks can be damaging to their self esteem. This becomes a vicious cycle as their self worth is often based on results/outcomes, rather than enjoying the experiences. Jack suggests that since we tend to remember our failures more than our successes, we should take stock of our successes over our life time. He also recommends what he calls a "victory log" This is a daily written record of our successes, which act as positive reminders.

Most of us consider ourselves to be high achievers, not perfectionists. The similarity between both personalities is they both strive for excellence. The difference is that the high achiever strives for excellence in a healthy way and takes genuine pleasure in trying to meet high standards. On the other hand, the perfectionist has self-doubts and fears of disapproval, ridicule, and rejection, which cause much stress and unhappiness; hence making the drive for excellence almost intolerable. Which do you want to be?


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