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What is perfectionism?

Perfectionism is the desire of appearing and performing perfectly (or without error) and the belief that perfection is achievable. Perfectionism is typically understood as a positive quality and is often associated with traits such as hardworking, dedicated, and responsible. For example, someone who has perfectionist tendencies may spend hours rewriting something (such as an email or a text) in order to be perceived as perfect. Perfectionism is a cognitive distortion because it is impossible to live life without error, so perfectionist goals are often unattainable. Research suggests that there are three types of perfectionists: Socially Prescribed Perfectionists (people who worry about criticism from others); Other-Oriented Perfectionists (people who have high standards for others); and Self-Oriented Perfectionists (people who have high standards for themselves). 

How does perfectionism affect me?

Perfectionism is a cognitive distortion in which people not only desire perfection and unattainable goals, but they also believe that these goals are possible to achieve. These distortions stem from core beliefs we might have about self worth and failure. This is not a healthy way of thinking because most things in life will not be free of error, and failure is a plausible outcome that we all experience from time to time. Because of these rigid ways of thinking, people who experience perfectionist tendencies often carry excess stress. They may be overly critical of themselves and of others or may feel that others are orderly critical of them. These added stressors are why perfectionism had been linked to having a poorer self-esteem and poor relation actions, as well as depression, anxiety, OCD, and even eating disorders.

How can I combat perfectionism?

There are many ways to combat perfectionism and perfectionistic tendencies. Because these are cognitive distortions, cognitive-behavioral treatments are effective. One of the first things you can do is to become self aware of some of the triggers and cognitive beliefs so that you can begin challenging them. Next, become comfortable with receiving constructive criticism and even getting comfortable with failure.We all experience failure from time to time, but that does not mean you are a failure. Failure is a rest stop, not a destination. You can also help yourself by avoiding the negative self-talk or criticism and set reasonable and attainable goals for yourself. Finally, going to therapy can help as your therapist can help you challenge these thoughts and core beliefs through guided exercises. 

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.