What causes perfectionism, and why it can be bad?


In this article, we’ll explore what causes perfectionism and the harms of perfectionism.

A perfectionist is a person who strives for flawlessness and sets excessively high and unrealistic performance standards for himself. A perfectionist wants to do things perfectly and anything ‘less than perfect’ or ‘almost perfect’ is considered by him a failure.

While perfectionism may seem like a good personality trait to possess, it does more harm than good.

Harms of perfectionism

Since a perfectionist sets very high, unattainable goals and performance standards, they usually fail and this destroys their self-esteem and self-confidence.

This is because, according to their thinking, not reaching those standards means that they’re a failure or a loser. So, they feel ashamed when they make a mistake.

A perfectionist may avoid mistakes to such an extent that they don’t try anything new just to escape their imagined humiliation. A perfectionist thus has a high chance of becoming a procrastinator.

You can see the type of prison that perfectionists live in. Every time a perfectionist does something less than perfect, their confidence level drops.

The only way they find to maintain their confidence is by not attempting stuff. Also, perfectionists may do the same task again and again or take a long time to complete tasks that would normally take less time just because they want to reach their expected level of perfection.

Someone who thinks that they should never make mistakes, always look their best, always get the highest marks in tests or always be the first suffer tremendous ego damage if they fail to do these things is a perfectionist.

what causes perfectionism
Trying to be perfect can result in a lot of frustration and stress.

What causes perfectionism?

A person may want to appear perfect if they feel inferior inside in some way or the other. Just for the sake of hiding their flaws, they build a wall of perfectionism around them. By appearing perfect, they think that others won’t be able to notice their flaws.

For example, a person who lacks social skills may try to reach perfection in their job. This way they are able to justify to themselves and to others (in their own mind) why they have no social life- because they’re perfect at what they do and that takes up all of their time.

Had they not been perfect in their job then they would have to admit the fact that they lack social skills and that could have possibly hurt their ego. So, in this case, perfectionism was used as an ego defence mechanism.

Perfectionism can also develop as a result of failure. It is often related to early childhood experiences. When a child fails to do something perfectly and is criticized for it and made to feel unworthy, it may develop a need to do things perfectly in order to win the approval of those around it.

When, as an adult, the same fails to do things perfectly, it reminds them of their old ‘unworthiness’ and they feel bad as a result.

Perfectionism v/s striving for excellence

Just like a perfectionist, a person who strives for excellence sets high goals for himself but unlike a perfectionist, they don’t feel bad if they come short again and again. This is because the person who strives for excellence and not perfection knows that mistakes are an inevitable part of human nature.

They know that it’s absolutely okay to make mistakes and that perfection can never be reached in anything- there’s always room for improvement.

Instead of focusing on perfection, they focus on excellence and continually raise the standard of what excellence means to them. Overcoming perfectionism is just a matter of getting rid of the false belief that ‘human beings should never make mistakes’.