Anxiety has become a word that many people are familiar with. In fact, an estimated 275 million people suffer from anxiety disorders, that’s 4% of the global population. Anxiety can appear from all kinds of backgrounds and social groups and can strike for any number of reasons. Ultimately, we now know that anxiety is a parasympathetic response in our brains leftover from our earliest stages in human history. Anxiety used to keep us alive. Similarly, perfection anxiety stems from our earliest tribalist desires, safety in numbers. We need to be liked and loved to be protected. As CNN writes, “We love authenticity and we know that life is messy and imperfect. We get sucked into perfection for one very simple reason: We believe perfection will protect us. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.” Let’s take a look at what perfection anxiety is and how we can overcome it.
What Is Perfectionism?
First of all, perfectionism is more than wanting to do well. Just as anxiety stems from the healthy fear of the unknown and becomes overblown to overwhelm one’s function in life, so too does perfectionism stem from a healthy place. Perfectionism takes the desire to do well and becomes consumed by it. An article published in 2021 reports, “Perfectionism involves a desire to perform to the highest standards without allowing room for failure. People with perfectionist beliefs tend to be overly self-critical and put pressure on themselves to perform flawlessly at all times. While perfectionism is often seen as a favorable trait, the attribute has been linked to numerous anxiety disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and social anxiety disorder (SAD).” There are a lot of internal and external factors involved in the rise of perfectionism, especially in the social media age. FHE Health says, “With their endless stream of posts and images portraying thin, rich, happy and successful people, social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and others have become for many women the bar for what they can and should be. More fit and attractive. More cultured and well-traveled. More successful. More powerful. Inevitably, no woman can fulfill all of these metrics for comparison, yet the constant barrage from social media can set anyone up for unhealthy standards, breeding perfectionism and anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions.” Make no mistake, perfectionism is dangerous. Perfectionism distorts the healthy relationship between our minds and what we can achieve, changing the landscape of our reality in very harmful ways. In fact, “A new study found that perfectionist thinking patterns contributed to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) symptoms, over and above several known control variables.” This means that perfectionism can make it difficult for one to ever feel good enough again, resulting in a painful, lifelong cycle of shame.
How To Overcome Perfection Anxiety
Perfectionism cannot be tackled alone. The mind is such a powerful tool of the human body that it can even distort reality, making it impossible to change negative behaviors by sheer will alone. A professional coach can help you to address your perfectionism if you think you are affected. They can also help you determine if there is a deeper issue that requires a therapist. The first step in overcoming perfection anxiety is to figure out if you have it. Some examples of perfectionist thinking are constant black-and-white thinking, catastrophic thinking, probability overestimation, and should statements. If your thinking fits with perfectionist thinking and behaviors, it may be helpful to gain some perspective. Good Therapy suggests using the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale to help yourself and mental health professionals to know where you need the most help in overcoming perfectionism. A professional can then help you to set realistic standards for yourself and start treatment. Ultimately, experts will help you to become more comfortable with imperfection in a healthy and productive way.
As the Harvard Business Review says, “Perfectionism is a double-edged sword.” The urge to work hard and do well is a positive trait that humans have had for centuries. However, perfectionism is a dangerous mental fixation that can be harmful for life. The key to overcoming perfection is conquering your fear of failure. A professional coach and therapist can help you get there.