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What Is Toxic Perfectionism and How to Deal With It

Damon Doherty Aug 12, 2019
If you know about perfectionism from internet memes with skewed ceilings, crooked walls and unexpectedly colored floor tiles, you probably think how this can be toxic?
Perfectionism may seem harmless or even productive, being tied to higher standards and higher quality of work. However, as it is with many things in this world, it is only good in moderation.

What Makes It Toxic?

Negative motivation makes perfectionism toxic. Perfectionists striving for success are actually fuelled by fear of failure. Procrastination, self-criticism, counterproductive behaviors then come into picture.
Perfectionists see the world in black and white. Nothing is good enough. It’s either perfect or a complete failure. Since perfection is something that can never be achieved, perfectionists feel helpless in this wild goose chase, which leads them into depression.
Another reason as to why perfectionism gets toxic is due to the tendency of people to equate performance and self-worth. Not only this is a self-defeating way to live, it makes people avoid new experiences and learning.
What is even more disturbing is that perfectionists are mostly younger. The sad fact is that as many as two in five children and teenagers are perfectionists now.
Parents gearing kids up for the highly competitive academic and working environment and iniquitousness of social media are most likely the culprits.
In the world ruled by KPIs and GPAs, who can blame students who seek paper writing help to get a coveted A+? Obviously parents, whose reaction to a B has always been a raised brow?
Colleges that withdraw financial support from students for a less than desired performance and the education system that bases the value of entire school experience on standardised tests also make perfectionism toxic.
For creative professionals, often dealing with rejection, this could be detrimental. When you get an answer like, “You style is brilliant and we are looking forward to working with you. However, the idea that you’ve pitched doesn’t suit our audience now".

All you read is, “FAIL!” That is perfectionism rearing its ugly head.

Types of Perfectionism

Self-Oriented Perfectionism

You are your own harsh judge. These people set the bar too high, trying to be the best at everything. When they fail to meet the expectations, they fall for self-criticism and guilt.

Others-Oriented Perfectionism

These people are never pleased with others. They expect perfection from everyone - children, spouses, students, employees, and are never satisfied. They are control freaks who tend towards blaming, distrust, arguments, and nit-picking.

Socially-Prescribed Perfectionism

You think others expect perfection from you. Socially-prescribed perfectionists feel they are under the magnifying glass with relentless audience judging them. This is the most toxic kind, tied to depression, anxiety, anger, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts.

What Can We Do?

Accept that we are not perfect. That’s the only way to gain confidence. Having high standards is good, but then, your work, your clothes or your body do not have to be perfect.
The stinging irony of perfectionism is that you avoid mistakes, when actually mistakes are the only way to move ahead, learn, and improve. That’s the only way to get better and achieve lofty goals perfectionists are so good at setting.