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Perfectionism: How to Manage our Newest Disability!

Perfectionism is turning into the new disability. Recent research by Curran and Hill (2017) has shown perfectionism to be on the rise for the last decade. While there are certain benefits to being one, perfectionists are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, compromised relationships and even a higher rate of suicide.

Who is a perfectionist? According to Hesitt and Flett (1991), a perfectionist is someone who has high personal standards and is overly critical of self. This is very different from someone who values learning and strives for excellence. The self-oriented perfectionist holds themselves to a high unattainable standard where innocent mistakes become personal flaws, making them over-react to criticism. They take comments personally as they internalize them as messages of “not being good enough.”1 Once internalized, they can go into defense mode quite easily, being reactive to any type of disagreement.

Perfectionists are great at creating long-term plans and having the discipline to perform and achieve high-quality results. While their attention to detail can be paralyzing at times, their products are often impeccable. Many successful people like Steve Jobs or Leonardo Da Vinci were perfectionists! As a matter of fact, certain jobs such as an accountant, court reporter or a lab technician require a great level attention to detail that a perfectionist has, enabling them to perform superior compared to others.

If not developed, most perfectionists abandon ideas before conception due to the multiple factors associated with creating a “perfect product.” First of all, in their mind, the excruciating pain and stress are not worth the effort. If you are one, I'm sure you have a long list of projects and ideas that you have left incomplete due to the high level of stress they create for you. Also, in the fear of making a mistake, a perfectionist procrastinates instead of making a decision. This adds to their idea list and further adds to their stress. Plus, no task meets their high unattainable standard. This in turn prevents them from trusting others and delegating their tasks, which ultimately negatively impacts their team work, leadership ability and financial growth. Think about it: if you have such high standards for your work, wouldn’t you look at everyone else's work through the same lens? Finally, no achievement big or small is celebrated for being “good enough.” In the end, the sheer amount of responsibility results in burnout.

When it comes to interacting with others, it shouldn’t be a surprise that perfectionists hold others to the same high standards as they do themselves. As a manager or a team member, perfectionists turn into nitpicky micromanagers. Friendships are judged based on their high standard and are often strained. As a result, perfectionists often suffer from lack of supportive and deep relationships, which they desire in their personal and professional jobs.