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Obsessive Perfectionism

Dealing With Obsessive Perfectionism

Obsessive Perfectionism

‘I strive to be perfect!! Well, not always; but there are a few areas where I seek perfection.’ Such areas could be studies, one’s appearance or work related projects. Perfectionism in one or more areas is a trait some of us identify with. We want a perfect state of mind before we begin work and a smooth, perfect route to task completion. The question I want to raise here is – Does the quest for perfection help or hurt? You might say, “both”.

My next question would be, “does it hurt more than it helps?” Wait a minute, you don’t have to answer me immediately.

I’d like you to take a few minutes though and think about this before you continue reading. It is an important question for you.

Does Your Perfectionist Streak Keep You Happy?

How Perfectionism affects you

Those of you who are with me in therapy would probably wince at yet another attempt at pressing you to introspect! Yet, it is important. In the comfort of your own space, check to what extent your desire to be perfect contributes to your happiness. Be careful not to think about an imagined, hypothetical state where you are perfect and so, are happy. I want you to think about the real you in routine everyday life. Does your quest to be perfect add to your happiness, contentment or mental peace? Chances are that the more obsessive we get about being perfect the more it erodes our happiness.

How Far Does Perfectionism Help In Task-Completion?

If your wish to be perfect motivates you, keeps you energized and focused on the task, it’s working for you. On the other hand, a large number of us find ourselves putting off important assignments or jobs because something is not “good enough” about the present state of affairs. You probably don’t start working because you need to attend to an errand after about an hour. You don’t like the disruption once you’re started. Or, you may keep waiting for a time when nobody is around to disturb you once you begin working. Only, such a time scarcely arrives, causing you to procrastinate. 

Moreover, important tasks tend to suffer more due to perfectionism. The more important the task is to you, the more preoccupied you are likely to be about perfection, leading to longer delays and more procrastination. It almost becomes very easy to spot something that is amiss in the present circumstances. You’d probably be thinking to yourself, “I won’t do a good job of it now, let me see if I’m able to tomorrow”. You probably realize as you’re reading this, you said this to yourself on most days. Clearly, perfectionism isn’t helping.

Does Perfectionism Cause You to be Anxious?

Anxiety due to perfectionism

Obsessive perfectionism makes us suffer long delays, unfinished work and the whole gamut of anxiety that unfinished tasks lead to. Even if we finish jobs, we keep wondering if we did those good enough. “Hope I haven’t messed that one up”, “what if I have made a mistake there?” are some thoughts that would seem familiar to you. Only, these thoughts probably worry you and cause you to over think or be upset. There is a clear link between perfectionism and anxiety. Obsessive perfectionism, even if it is in a few areas, doesn’t allow us any mental calm. We constantly think, re-think and think yet again about those areas. This state of mental overdrive more often than not leaves us feeling irritable, edgy and anxious.

Perfectionism holding you back

Is Your Perfectionism Holding You Back?

Counseling can be a great tool for you to learn more about your perfectionism and manage your life with ease.

We are here for you.

Dealing With Obsessive Perfectionism- Letting Yourself Be

Dealing with perfectionism basically means tweaking our thoughts. With some effort made towards altering our thought patterns and self-talk, we can go a long way and work hard without a compulsive need to be perfect.

  • Distinguish Between ‘Perfect’ and ‘Good Enough’

If perfectionism turns counterproductive for you, you are more likely to miss distinguishing between ‘perfect’ and ‘good enough’. ‘Perfection’ does not allow any scope for errors, whereas ‘good enough’ surely does. We are human. We’re bound to have troughs and crests in performance. Aren’t there times when we err despite being very careful? What is the solution to this? To be more careful? Definitely not. We’d only be entering a spiral of anxiety by pushing ourselves to be careful all the time. Which teaching in the world says “you must never ever err”? There is a difference between “do your best” and “do THE best”. Think about it. You can surely do your best even in less than ideal circumstances. You needn’t stall your action plan everyday for days on end. This is worth trying.

  •  Start Small

Try reducing Perfectionism bit by bit. Challenge but do not push yourselves too far. Try carrying out smaller action plans first. Like you could try studying in ‘imperfect’ surroundings for half an hour first and then study for longer hours as you get comfortable with the process. Or you could try opting for an ‘imperfect’ look for a relatively casual occasion for a start.

  • Trust Yourself 

Our minds are unpredictable at times, but there is surely some order up there! You will definitely try your best and put in sincere effort even if you ease the emphasis on the “zero error” policy. You probably think of yourself as a careless wreck if not a perfect person. This is untrue. Will your goals cease to remain as dear to you if you stop stressing about perfection? No, they won’t. You’ll still want to do well, you will still work hard Have faith, trust yourself.

I’d like to leave you with a saying by Henry van Dyke that I genuinely believe is true for each of us : 

“Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best”. ~Henry van Dyke

Frequently Asked Questions

Mindfulness is a great tool that you can use to manage perfectionism. For instance, being mindful helps you stay present with your thoughts and be aware of it. It also helps in accepting flaws in your work and being compassionate towards yourself. It also reduces the anxiety and sadness that is often associated with perfectionism. 

It can be quite challenging to strike a healthy balance between wanting to improve on a task that you are doing versus being perfect at it. There are some techniques you can use to avoid engaging in perfectionistic thought and behaviour. 

  1. Challenge unhelpful, critical, thoughts: Your perfectionism may manifest as negative and critical thoughts. To overcome them, try challenging how true and logical they are.
  2. Set achievable and realistic goals: Often, people with perfectionism tend to have unattainable goals. And when they are unachievable, it may set off the loop of self-criticism, which worsens perfectionism. Thus, set smaller, attainable, and manageable goals. 
  3. Learn Mindfulness: Learn how to bring yourself to the present moment when you feel like you are overthinking or engaging in self-critical thought. 

While some need for perfectionism is normal and healthy, excessive and obsessive perfectionism can affect multiple areas of your life. For example, it can lead to a lower self-esteem and lack of creativity- which can impact your professional or school life. Perfectionism can also make you sensitive to criticism, creating a block in your growth. 

It can also affect your relationships as well. Engaging excessively with the need to perfect can lead you to push away, or isolate from people. This can impair your social relationships. 

About the Author

This article was written by Malini Krishnan, Counselor at Inner Space, since 2010. This post was consulted & approved by professional therapists practicing online therapy and counseling. 

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If you are interested to know more about perfectionism and other mental health topics, ‘Ask A Therapist’ is a platform for you to ask your questions related to Mental Health, Mindfulness & Emotional Well-Being to our team of qualified Therapists.


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