Psychological Self-Help

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Perfectionists and Worriers
The perfectionist often sets very high standards for
him/herself…and sometimes for others. Certainly, lofty standards are a
good thing but they can become a barrier rather than an aid to
completing a task. 
A man would do nothing, if he waited until he could do it so well that no one would find
fault with what he has done. 
Cardinal Newman, 1801-1890, British Preacher
It is helpful to think of good or normal perfectionism and
problematic or neurotic perfectionism. Normal perfectionism involves
the desire to excel and take pleasure from putting in extraordinary
efforts without feeling compelled to be perfect. It is setting high
personal standards while accepting one’s personal limitations, so one
feels good about a job well done. Neurotic perfectionism involves
excessively demanding standards that often cause the actor to feel
stressed, unhappy and personally critical. Sometimes perfectionists are
actually less effective because they fret about mistakes, worry about
slow progress, and try too hard to impress others. Some are upset by
negative self-evaluations; it is almost: “if I’m not perfect, I am bad.”
At least, they have a strong need to avoid mistakes. Sometimes,
however, they harshly focus on their errors and stupidity instead of
figuring out how to correct or avoid their mistakes. In a few cases,
neurotic perfectionism can contribute strongly to despair, fear and
The worrier and the perfectionist probably learned this kind of
thinking as a child from a parent. Perhaps they adopt their parents’
inappropriate standards or internalize their negative judgments. The
perfectionistic parent feels badly if his/her child fails, then pressures
the child to make no mistakes or to be a "little angel." The child learns
that making mistakes leads to the loss of love but doing something
perfect means "I'm OK." Since the child's self-evaluation is based on
what others think of him/her, it becomes important to be perfect all
the time. As the child gets older, the standards are set higher and
higher, increasing the chance of failing. 
A child may seek approval by being compulsive or orderly or overly
concerned with cleanliness. Of course, these behaviors may be in your
genes too. Hewitt and Flett (2002) describe three kinds of
perfectionism: (1) Individually maladaptive—when a person is
obsessed with possibly failing to reach impractical self-assigned goals,
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