September 28, 2023

TOP 10 ways to manage perfectionist tendencies

Managing Maladaptive Perfectionist Tendencies 

Success comes in many forms and may vary depending on our age and the stage of life we’re in. For a university student, success means achieving the finals to get an A+. For a career-oriented person, success means getting the promotion they’re working on or getting more money in their bank account.  

While everyone has a different definition of success, the drive to become successful is a force that pushes us to improve and move forward. But what if the goals you set for yourself become too unrealistic? That’s when maladaptive perfectionism comes along.

In this article, we discuss everything about maladaptive perfectionism, from its definition to strategies on how to manage this unhealthy tendency toward perfection. 

What is Maladaptive Perfectionism? 

Perfectionism is the tendency to hold a high standard to achieve flawless results or performance. It may be viewed as a positive trait, where an individual may set high goals and standards to challenge themselves to achieve success and motivate themselves to be better.  

The response against failure, though, is what sets healthy perfectionists apart from unhealthy or maladaptive perfectionists. Healthy perfectionists consider failures as part of the learning process and can bounce back from minor setbacks. In contrast, maladaptive perfectionists consider failure as an unpleasant and hurtful event. Their unhealthy response may be either becoming obsessed with the goal or task or avoiding the task altogether. 

Common Signs of Maladaptive Perfectionism 

Maladaptive perfectionists set unrealistic goals and standards for themselves and, in some cases, for others. Here are some of the behaviours that people with maladaptive perfectionism exhibit: 

  • They won’t attempt to do the task unless there’s a guarantee that they can do it perfectly. 
  • They can easily see faults in anything and won’t forgive even the slightest mistakes. 
  • They tend to hold off doing tasks until the last minute (i.e., procrastinate), for fear that they won’t be able to do it flawlessly on the first try. 
  • They take longer to complete a task compared to others, as they won’t consider anything finished until it fits their standard. 

Contributory Factors in the Development of Maladaptive Perfectionism 

Multiple factors contribute to the development of maladaptive perfectionism in an individual. Oftentimes, it’s cultural, stemming from the need to impress others around them. Here are some of the possible reasons behind maladaptive perfectionism: 

1) Social Media 

The advent of social media has led to a huge impact on the lives of many. While there are benefits that the usage of social media platforms has brought to us, there are certainly downsides, such as dissatisfaction and being overly critical of oneself in the quest to achieve perfection, like the perfect portrayal of influencers in all aspects of their lives. 

2) The Need to Fit In 

Humans are social animals, so we constantly need to fit in and belong to a group. Others value it highly, to the point that they fear rejection and disapproval from others, so they do everything they can to do things flawlessly and gain validation from others.  

3) Parental Practices 

Some individuals see achievements such as monetary gain and power as ways to seek approval from their parents. This may stem from their parents’ own cultural pressure of raising successful children, or from the parents having perfectionistic tendencies themselves. Some parents may even resort to questionable and abusive practices to push their children to perfection. 

Maladaptive Perfectionism 

Mental Health Conditions Associated with Maladaptive Perfectionism 

People with maladaptive perfectionism have their self-esteem and self-worth tied up to their performance in achieving their goals. This results in heightened symptoms of anxiety, where anything short of perfection can lead them to think more negatively and amplify their anxious thoughts. 

Aside from anxiety, other mental health disorders associated with maladaptive perfectionism include: 

  1. Depression 
  2. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder 
  3. Eating Disorders 

Self-Help Tips for Overcoming Maladaptive Perfectionism 

Maladaptive perfectionism may be addressed through different self-help strategies, enumerated in the following steps: 

Step 1:  Recognize If You Have a Problem with Perfectionism 

The first and most important step in addressing any problem is acknowledging it exists. Assess whether the standard you set for yourself is still realistic and doesn’t affect the quality of your daily life and your relationships with friends and family.  

Step 2: Break the Unhealthy Pattern 

Individuals who wish to cope with their maladaptive perfectionism may do so by pinpointing and addressing the negative aspects of this behaviour that significantly affect the way they live. Here are some ways to break the unhealthy pattern that characterizes maladaptive perfectionism: 

  • Try to think of perfectionism as some kind of “illusion” perpetuated by society. Replace self-critical thoughts with realistic ones and continually practice them until they become a habit. 
  • Gradually incorporate any sort of imperfection in your life, like leaving some areas of the house a little bit messy. In this way, you’ll learn to be more comfortable and accepting of anything you think isn’t ideal.  
  • Set realistic schedules to remember that the goal is to finish the task even when it’s not perfect. Break down the big task that you feel overwhelmed with into smaller, more manageable chunks, and celebrate the completion of these smaller tasks as an accomplishment. 

Step 3: Reward Yourself for Your Progress 

It’s hard to put in the effort and proactively change disruptive patterns that contribute to maladaptive perfectionistic tendencies. Treat yourself to a nice meal, finally, buy that thing you’ve been eyeing for so long, or just simply hang out with friends to remind yourself of your progress and reward yourself for the work you do toward change.  

How Therapy Can Help 

Self-help strategies may be combined with professional help for optimal recovery. Here are some of the therapeutic approaches that mental health professionals may apply to help you overcome maladaptive perfectionism: 

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): This therapeutic approach is the most commonly employed by mental health professionals to address maladaptive perfectionism. It helps improve the outlook of a person with maladaptive perfectionist tendencies about things that they perceive should be perfect. For example, it may help the said individual consider minor setbacks as challenges rather than reasons to stop going towards their goal. 
  • Family Systems Theory: In this approach, the development and impact of maladaptive perfectionism in the family members are explored. 
  • Hypnotherapy: Hypnotherapy can help change the pathologic thought pattern of the individual with maladaptive perfectionism, such as their refusal to bounce back after a failure. 
manage perfectionist tendencies

Evidence-Based Therapies at Archways Centre for CBT 

Maladaptive perfectionism is an individual’s tendency to strive for unrealistic, often unreachable goals. It’s an unhealthy behaviour often associated with anxiety and other mental health conditions. Due to the negative impacts that maladaptive perfectionism may bring in an individual’s daily life, it’s best to follow self-help strategies combined with professional help to overcome it. 

At Archways Centre for CBT, we’re committed to helping in the improvement of the quality of life of our patients. We employ evidence-based therapy approaches based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to provide our top-notch mental health services. Contact us here today and book your appointment with us. 

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