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URMC / BHP / BHP Blog / September 2022 / Perfectionism: How to be Imperfect

Perfectionism: How to be Imperfect

By: Jennifer Mooney, LMHC

“I have to be prepared for every possibility.” “I like to do things well and achieve what others can’t.” “I like to go to bed leaving no task undone.” You may relate to one or all of these statements. Indeed, they are consistent with our motto at University of Rochester: Meliora, a Latin word for “Ever better”. Along with constant striving, you may also relate to one or all of the following statements. “I have to do more and more in order to feel acceptable.” “I can’t stand it when things aren’t done just right.” “I have no free time.” These statements reflect some of the advantages and disadvantages of perfectionism.

Studies of the various multi-dimensional models of perfectionism have led to the conclusion that there is an adaptive and a maladaptive aspect to perfectionism. Adaptive perfectionism is characterized by positive striving and high personal standards. Maladaptive perfectionism is characterized by overly critical self-evaluation including concerns about mistakes and doubts about actions.

Perfectionism has been shown to be associated with many mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorder, suicidality, self-harm, insomnia, social phobia, and obsessive-compulsive symptoms. Evidence suggests that reducing perfectionism will decrease anxiety, depression, and other mental health symptoms. 

The chart below provides a brief snapshot of how cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) might be used to target perfectionism. The CBT approach would help individuals identify recurring, unhelpful thoughts which contribute to perfectionism. Next, individuals learn how to identify alternative, balanced thoughts which would reduce perfectionism. Using this approach, individuals learn how to use cognitive restructuring and other skills consistently to achieve desired results.

UNHELPFUL THOUGHT

ALTERNATIVE, MORE BALANCED THOUGHT

I must do things perfectly.

Trying my best is reasonable—in some areas I’ll do well, and in others I’ll do less well.

I must always make sure that every room in my house is spotlessly clean.

It would be okay if I clean that room tomorrow/this weekend/next week.

I must check my reports over and over to make sure there are no errors.

It’s good to check that things are okay, and checking once or twice is enough.

 

Other therapeutic approaches for targeting perfectionism may be effective even though they are not as yet widely studied as CBT for this purpose. 

If you are concerned about perfectionism or any other symptoms of anxiety or depression, Well-U’s Behavioral Health Partners is here to help, offering eligible individuals mental health services.  Learning how to cope with your perfectionistic thought can help improve your work performance as well as your overall wellbeing. Our team of mental health professionals can accurately assess your symptoms and make recommendations for treatment. To schedule an intake appointment, give us a call at (585) 276-6900.

References:

Fursland, A., Raykos, B. and Steele, A. (2009). Perfectionism in Perspective. Perth, Western Australia: Centre for Clinical Interventions. (https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/Resources/For-Clinicians/Perfectionism )

Lloyd, Samantha, Schmidt, Ulrike, Khondoker, Mizanur & Tchanturia, Kate. (2015). Can psychological interventions reduce perfectionism? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy43, 705-731.

Smith, M. M., Sherry, S. B., Ge, S. Y. J., Hewitt, P. L., Flett, G. L., & Baggley, D. L. (2022). Multidimensional perfectionism turns 30: A review of known knowns and known unknowns. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, 63(1), 16-31.

 

Kristina Johanson | 9/1/2022

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