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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?


Are you a perfectionist?

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    • DynamicS profile image

      Sandria Green-Stewart 7 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      peacefulparadox; the 80/20 rule is a great tool to remember but some of us put too much pressure on ourselves to be the best. We're told only the BEST is good enough, but what we fail to ask is by whose standard are we judging ourselves? Thanks for the reminder about the serenity prayer; I'll keep that in mind the next time I start beating on myself for not being what others expect me to be.


    • profile image

      peacefulparadox 7 years ago

      No, I am not a perfectionist. So that is why I'm surprised at the poll result where most people say they are perfectionist. In certain things, I believe in the 80/20 rule -- some things can be done 80% well with only 20% of the effort. In other things, I believe in the "Serenity Prayer" where one line says "To accept the things I cannot change". If I can not make something perfect, I let it be and accept it (and love it just the same).

    • DynamicS profile image

      Sandria Green-Stewart 8 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Chris Eddy111, thanks for stopping by and for your comments. It is great that you are aware of yourself because that awareness allows for making conscious effort to change. That's the great advantage that we have as humans, we can transform ourselves for the better. I am learning every day to understand and improve myself. Thanks for your comments.

      Have a great day.

    • DynamicS profile image

      Sandria Green-Stewart 8 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Sally's Trove, thanks for your visit and for your supportive comments. Working on changing anything about one's self is an ongoing process. As you rightly said self awareness is step 1 and it is crucial to redirect one's behaviour toward their goal. I am learning to value myself and appreciate me, even with my short comings.

      Thanks again for your generosity of spirit.

      Have a blessed day:)

    • Chris Eddy111 profile image

      Chris Eddy111 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      No doubt about it, I am one. Yes, throughout my life and even now anxiety etc etc is a big problem. On the positive, I recognized it for what it is and have been on the road awhile to helping myself by loving and accepting myself no matter what.

      Thank you for your clear definition and help in regards to balancing the tendencies.

    • Chris Eddy111 profile image

      Chris Eddy111 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      No doubt about it, I am one. Yes, throughout my life and even now anxiety etc etc is a big problem. On the positive, I recognized it for what it is and have been on the road awhile to helping myself by loving and accepting myself no matter what.

      Thank you for your clear definition and help in regards to balancing the tendencies.

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      A few years ago a friend of mine put her house on the market and went through that intensive cleaning and staging process. I went to visit her one day, walked in the door, and was stunned to speechlessness by what I saw. The house was gorgeous. But my friend took my momentary silence as criticism, saying, "I know it doesn't meet your standards, but it meets mine." Well, whether I liked what she said or not, it was a lesson.

      The first step in dealing with perfectionist behaviors is awareness. I wish you good luck along the road of change; it's got lots of bumps and ruts, but sometimes some smooth sailing, too.

      Like Tammy, I prefer the term "high achiever." ;)

    • DynamicS profile image

      Sandria Green-Stewart 8 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      quicksand, my friend, as usual, good to see you. I know the answer is not as simple as 'yes'. There are ways in which perfectionism can propell one to greatness, but it can also be a hinderance when it consumes one's life with regrets and unhappiness from dis-satisfaction with life's outcomes.

      You sound like a person who has balance and a positive perspective.

      Thanks for your visit.

    • quicksand profile image

      quicksand 8 years ago

      The answer to your question is, "yes it is!" :)

    • DynamicS profile image

      Sandria Green-Stewart 8 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Tommy, thanks for your kind comment. I agree anyone who is a self professed perfectionist is bound to be sad and lonely because no one can meet their high expectations. That must be a very sad existence. I have met a few persons who fit the description of perfectionist and they were not the happiest people. They never celebrate their achievements. They were always complaining that no one does this or that right. They were always firing their staff and most of all none of the people that I'm thinking about were married or in a long term relationship. I can't imagine living like that.

      On the other hand, they were some of the highest earners that I know. They were also considered "experts" in their fields of work. Too bad that they do not have a balance in their life. They do not enjoy the journey.

      I believe that having fun along the way is what life was meant to be.

      Have an awesome day.

    • DynamicS profile image

      Sandria Green-Stewart 8 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      someonewhoknows, thanks for stopping by and for your comments. You are absolutely right, our early socialization has a hugh impact on forming our personality. I welcome the awareness, so that I do not repeat the pattern with my son. As a gifted child, my perfectionism started from the attention that being a good student offered. So you are right, I was trying to live up to the expectations of family members & teachers who were so proud of me as a child.

      It is funny how it has taken over thirty years for me to realize this trait. I could have saved myself so much stress.

      Anyway, as my grandma would say "It's better late than never..."

      Have a blessed day.

    • DynamicS profile image

      Sandria Green-Stewart 8 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      msorensson, good to hear from you and thanks for stopping by. I am taking measures to minimize the perfectionist traits because they are causing much anxiety in my life. I only realized this recently, so I'm taking baby steps.

      My ideals are sometime too high of myself and others, so it will take some doing on my part to maintain balance.

      I am consciously changing my life each day.


    • profile image

      Tammy Lochmann 8 years ago

      I read this in Colin T Mercer's hub today. "30% of the people will love you 30% of the people will hate you and the rest don’t give a s..t." Excuse the language but it's true. Most self proclaimed perfectionists that I have known are dysfunctional in some way or form.

      I really enjoyed this hub. I prefer the term high achiever for sure.

    • someonewhoknows profile image

      someonewhoknows 8 years ago from south and west of canada,north of ohio

      Being a perfectionist can work for you or against you depending on what you see perfection to be.

      You may be trying to live your life according to your percieved idea of perfection or someone elses idea of perfection.

    • msorensson profile image

      msorensson 8 years ago

      Great hub, DynamicsS.

      Thanks for this.

      I once was a perfectionist [smiles]


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