Perfectly Anxious: Clinical Perfectionism & How To Handle It

Perfectionism. Having high standards for ourselves inspires us to do the best we can, approaching life with motivation and ambition. Perfectionism can be healthy in this regard, but when it becomes unhealthy and turns into ‘clinical perfectionism’ (sometimes referred to as ‘dysfunctional perfectionism’) it can cause serious problems. It is associated with different mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders and chronic fatigue syndrome.

  • Being unable to accept failure: Little errors become serious character flaws, and rather than opportunities to learn you find yourself revisiting the guilt of past mistakes. Even something as little as forgetting an item from your shopping list can pull you into a cycle of self-criticism.
  • Feeling like nothing you do is good enough. Even when you do have success in life, you’re unable to enjoy it. You focus almost exclusively on your failings and struggle to accept compliments.
  • Your hopes and dreams make you miserable. Rather than feeling motivated by your goals, the thought of them makes you anxious and stressed. The fear of not succeeding is terrifying, and looking into the future stops you enjoying the present.
  • Your time is taken up with correcting little mistakes rather than looking at the big picture. Often you spend so long on a particular activity that you want done well, that you end up with less time and energy to focus on more important tasks.
  • You feel compelled to wait for the “perfect moment” to do something. However this often results in not doing it at all!

People with clinical perfectionism tend to approach situations with an “all or nothing” mentality. They tend to see things in black or white, and would rather avoid something than not being able to complete it to a high standard. Managing perfectionism often requires changing the way you perceive failure and how it reflects back on you.

  • Let your ideas guide you, not restrict you. You may have big plans, but be prepared to compromise or consider different options or opinions. It’s ok to change your mind.
  • Celebrate the journey, not the outcome. Even if you don’t manage to hit a target or achieve something you wanted to, focus on the effort you put into it and what you learnt along the way.
  • Practice failing. Failing is an important part of life as it helps us build emotional resilience to cope with future disappointments.
  • Ask for help! You don’t feel comfortable delegating because you want to be sure the task is being done properly, but this often means you end up doing everything! Take the time to explain your process to someone else and trust them to complete the task on their own. Sharing some of the responsibility you’re shouldering will give you space to breathe.
  • Work with a Therapist. Anxiety UK have a network of experienced CBT therapists to help you challenge unhealthy and unhelpful thoughts, reactions and behaviours.

Overcoming perfectionismFor more information on understanding perfectionism and how to manage the anxiety caused by it, Overcoming Perfectionism is an step by step CBT-based guide. The book discusses how perfectionism manifests itself and suggests effective coping strategies plus invaluable guidance on how to avoid future relapse.

The book is available via our online shop or can be ordered over the telephone by calling 03444 775 774.