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The Perfectionism Paradox

We are approaching the holidays and the end of the year is soon to follow and many of us are thinking about how to prepare. Some may have family coming to visit and find themselves thinking about making sure the home is spotless and the food will turn out perfectly. Some may be going to visit family out of town and find themselves thinking about what to pack and what to bring on their trip. Others may be reflecting on this past year, the accomplishments and failures, and new year’s goals. Thinking about what to do differently starting the next year to be healthier and improve yourself. Sometimes by doing this, we can fall into the perfectionism trap.

When we think of something being perfect, we usually think it is a great thing. On the contrary, when we think of being a perfectionist, we think it is negative and ego inflated. Perfectionism comes from putting pressure on ourselves to meet high standards we or others placed on ourselves. Perfection gives us the drive to keep growing and make things better, it can also make us feel like nothing is ever good enough. This tells us that there are good and bad sides to perfectionism. Perfectionism is defined as refusing to accept any standard that is less than perfect. This raises many questions, what is perfect exactly? Who decides what is perfect? Is aiming for perfection a bad thing? What is good about it? Am I a perfectionist? And the list goes on...In this post, we will explore perfectionism further to better understand the paradox and how it impacts us.

Perfectionism is explained by three key areas, the relentless striving for high standards, judging self-worth based on the ability to achieve those high standards, and the continuous involvement regardless of experiencing negative consequences from those demanding high standards. Having high standards is not a bad thing; it helps us achieve our goals, challenge ourselves to keep growing, and learn new skills. There are many good reasons for being a perfectionist including wanting to do things well, being efficient and organized, wanting to be on top of the class, feeling special, accomplishing what others haven't, and knowing that you gave your absolute best. Having high standards and goals helps us grow, yet when these goals are unrealistic and unachievable, it can be hard to feel accomplished and good about our efforts. At times, having high standards can impair our performance and hinder our happiness and sense of self-worth. Pursuing relentless high standards can have a significant impact on our wellbeing leading us to feel a persistent sense of failure. This is the paradox of perfectionism.

It is important to know that perfectionism can exist in one area of life or multiple areas of life. For example, perfectionism can exist at work but maybe not with family or at work and family but maybe not with friends, etc. It doesn’t have to exist in every area of life. To recognize and build awareness around perfectionism, here are ten of the most common perfectionist behaviors.

1. Decision paralysis

This is when we struggle to decide promptly. For example, not being able to decide what to wear for work because we cannot find that perfect outfit.

2. Seeking reassurance

This is when we consistently ask others to check our work to make sure it is acceptable and well received.

3. Excessive organizing and making lists

This is when we repeatedly rewrite lists or redo project outlines with the intention of perfecting them.

4. Giving up easily

This is when we give up on something because it is hard, or it takes time to accomplish. For example, giving up on learning calculus after a month of practice because we are not experts at it yet.

5. Procrastinating

This is when we put things off out of fear it won’t be good enough, so it is better to not do it at all or do it at another time.

6. Not knowing when to stop

For example, having an argument or debate about something repeatedly even if others are no longer interested.

7. Excessive checking

This is when we are repeatedly looking in the mirror before we leave our homes, or constantly rechecking emails before sending them to make sure there are no mistakes before we hit the send button.

8. Hoarding

This is when we keep stuff just in case, we need them later, we have them. For example, keeping statements of paid bills so if an issue occurs, we have the documents.

9. Slowness

Sometimes when we are trying to be perfect, we can find ourselves saying or doing things slowly to make sure we do or say the right thing.

10. Situational avoidance

This is when we avoid certain situations out of fear of failure. This can look like not applying for a job out of fear of not getting an offer.

By recognizing our perfectionist behaviors, we can explore our underlying thoughts and assumptions driving them to the surface. This will help guide us in deciding whether these thoughts and assumptions are helpful or harmful to our well-being. If we are focused on the things that are not working in order to fix them and we are criticizing ourselves harshly in the process, we are likely to experience negative consequences. If we are focused on adjusting our expectations to be more realistic, we are likely to enhance our well-being.

So, it is imperative to explore whether our perfectionist behavior is helping us grow or holding us back. If you find yourself struggling to do this alone, seeking professional help can be beneficial in navigating your challenges.

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About Sam Nabil

Sam Nabil is the founder of Naya Clinics and is a Boston therapist and a Boston Marriage Counselor.

Sam offers therapy in Boston and Boston Marriage Counseling for adults suffering from relationship challenges, life transitions and anxiety. Sam Nabil was featured in many prestigious publications. Check out his interview with Aljazeera English, The Washington post, The Boston Globe, Fatherly magazine, Women's health magazine, Cornell university, Yahoo News, USA Today,

Naya Clinics is a top-rated Marriage Counseling, therapy and Life coaching practice.

Naya Clinics offers Marriage Counselors near me, individual therapy near me, and life coaching near me in various locations across the USA and the world. Naya Clinics also offers Online marriage counseling, online therapy, and online life coaching.

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