July 16, 2018 | Pennsylvania Counseling Services, Inc.

the tendency to demand of others or of oneself an extremely high or even flawless level of performance, in excess of what is required by the situation.

Do you…

hold yourself to excessive and unrealistic standards?
put things off because you don’t have time to do them perfectly?
feel disappointed with the quality of other people’s work?
feel upset when something doesn’t go as planned?
feel guilty when relaxing or not working on something?
find it difficult to accept personal mistakes?
fear failure?
generally believe you could’ve done better?
prefer doing something yourself rather than asking for help?
put yourself under pressure with self-imposed deadlines?
take yourself very seriously?
fear rejection or criticism?
become your own worst critic?
minimize past successes and maximize present weaknesses?

If you answered yes to some of these questions, you may be influenced by one of the most common destructive mindsets in our society: perfectionism.


Perfectionism is an obsession with achieving flawless performances and results. It expresses itself in many forms, but the most prevalent sign of perfectionism is an overemphasis on performance, success and achievement. To a perfectionist, average is not acceptable, and excellence is the only satisfactory option.


A perfectionist usually puts a lot of thought and focus into their self-esteem. Many times, a perfectionist has experienced some degree of damage to their self-esteem in the past. From being picked on in grade school to feeling the pressure to compete with the accomplishments set by someone else, perfectionism builds its foundation when a person feels the need to push themselves to become better.

The obsession to perform and excel is driven by the person’s perception of who they are, physically or mentally. Past accomplishments aren’t enough to satisfy a perfectionist, and in some cases anxiety awakens as the perfectionist begins to build a never-ending list of the areas they’re falling short of perfect.


As a perfectionist continues to notice areas of insecurity or low self-esteem, they begin to feel a strong sense of shame and guilt about any part of their character, appearance or lifestyle that seems imperfect. As a result, they set high standards and expectations to try to fix these insecurities. They begin to set their goals and tasks based on their ideal self, or the person they believe they could be if they lived flawlessly.


If a perfectionist wants to start waking up earlier than 10 a.m., they might set their alarm for 5 a.m.


If a perfectionist wants to lose weight, they might decide to cut everything but vegetables out of their diet.


If a perfectionist wants to clean their house, they might aim to clean the entire house in one morning.

Perfectionists believe their ideal self can accomplish almost anything, so they set idealistic goals, expecting their real self to find the drive to achieve these goals. The issue is no one can live flawlessly or be their ideal self all the time. And when a perfectionist fails to hold to their high expectations, they often experience depression, self-criticism or an overwhelming feeling of helplessness.


In order to overcome perfectionism, a perfectionist must address their core problem: a lack of self acceptance of who they truly are. The treatment process for perfectionism focuses strongly on working through the perfectionist’s internal shame and eventually accepting and affirming their real self—a perfectly limited and flawed person—just like everyone else in this world. For a perfectionist, accepting the reality that their ideal self is not who they truly are may be a painful process and sometimes requires professional help. The treatment process most likely involves several parts:

  • exploration of the traits that the perfectionist believes are imperfect and unacceptable

  • exploration of the roots of the perfectionist’s feelings of shame

  • rediscovery of the perfectionist’s real self—with acceptance and affirmation

  • identification and revision of the perfectionist’s unhealthy thought patterns

  • affirmation of the perfectionist’s real self through positive behavioral choices

“It’s great to be great, but it’s greater to be human.”


If you or someone you know is having a difficult time overcoming perfectionistic tendencies, we can help. Check out our outpatient services page for a full range of treatment options including individual and family counseling.