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Understanding Perfectionism

In a world where flawless Instagram feeds and Pinterest-perfect lifestyles dominate our screens, pursuing perfection has become a goal for many. The drive to be the best at home, in school, amongst friends and family, can feel all too consuming. Perfectionism, often glorified as a desirable trait, hampers personal growth and well-being. The more we reward perfection, the scarier it feels to try something new, to pursue a challenge, or to be ourselves.

Rooted in the unrealistic pursuit of flawlessness, perfectionism can lead to excessive self-criticism, fear of failure, and chronic dissatisfaction. In this blog post, we will explore what perfectionism is, its costs, and its causes.

What is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism is a mindset characterized by setting unrealistically high standards and being highly self-critical, leading to mental distress when unable to meet those standards (Flett & Hewitt, 2002). When we see a perfectly curated post of someone’s home, a beautiful happy couple, or another workout selfie, it can trigger us to question, ‘Am I doing enough?’ and push us to work towards an image of an ideal.

While setting ambitious goals and striving for excellence can be beneficial, perfectionism takes it to an extreme, often leaving individuals feeling inadequate and trapped in a cycle of self-criticism.

The Costs of Perfectionism?

The quest for perfection can lead to chronic stress, anxiety, and burnout, hindering personal growth and stifling creativity.

When we are burdened by perfectionistic standards, we might find ourselves procrastinating and avoiding tasks we feel are challenging or hard. When we don’t try, we avoid feeling inferior by telling ourselves that if we would have put in the effort, we could have succeeded. This fear of making mistakes can lead to missed opportunities and hinder innovation. 

Additionally, the constant pursuit of perfection can cause chronic stress, anxiety, and burnout, taking a toll on one’s mental and physical health. 

When we strive to be perfect and not have our mistakes in the light, we miss out on developing authentic connections, as someone seeing our vulnerability is all too overwhelming. 

Likewise, constructive feedback can be challenging for the perfectionist, as they strive to have uncriticizable work.

Causes of Perfectionism

Where does this drive for perfectionism come from? Perfectionism is often influenced by both internal and external factors. Here are some common origins of perfectionism:


  1. Upbringing and Environment: Perfectionism can develop during childhood if an emphasis is placed on performance, high achievement, and strict expectations. When a child learns that love and affection are conditional on good behaviour and high performance, or reversely that challenging behaviour, mistakes, or poor performance results in consequences or punishment, the roots of perfectionism begin to grow.


  1. Societal Influences: Many societal systems are built on performance-based structures where perfectionism is rewarded. Societal pressures to meet unrealistic standards of success, beauty, or productivity can fuel perfectionism. Media, social media, and comparisons to others can create a constant need to measure up and be flawless in every aspect of life to be seen as desirable to others and avoid criticism.


  1. Personal Traits and Personality: Those with a strong propensity for conscientiousness, detail, or a strong desire for control can make individuals more prone to perfectionistic tendencies. When these traits are combined with external pressures, it can amplify the pursuit of perfection.


  1. Fear of Failure and Rejection: Perfectionism often stems from a fear of making mistakes, failing, or being judged by others. The need for validation and a fear of criticism or rejection can drive individuals to strive for unattainable perfection as a protective measure of their self-worth.


  1. Traumatic Experiences: Traumatic events or experiences of criticism, bullying, or high-pressure environments can contribute to the development of perfectionism. Individuals may adopt perfectionistic tendencies as a coping mechanism to regain a sense of control or to avoid further harm.


It’s important to note that everyone’s experience with perfectionism is unique, and multiple factors can interact and shape its development. Understanding these origins can provide insights into the underlying causes and help individuals navigate their journey toward self-acceptance.

Looking for Help?

If you notice perfectionistic tendencies in yourself or someone you love, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. We have a team of caring psychotherapists who are here for you. Book a free 20-minute consultation today.

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LightHouse Counselling & Wellness provides virtual psychotherapy across Ontario and in-person therapy in Richmond & Kanata. Book an appointment or schedule a free consultation!