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Living and Growing with Perfectionism

 Psychology student and blogger, Shahanara, explores perfectionism using her personal experience and scientific research

Every so often, we come into contact with individuals who are very particular. People who appreciate precision and organisation, and who experience heightened levels of stress when faced with unorderly things. They may feel agitated as a result of trivial mistakes, and may have a constant, almost uncomfortable desire to excel in all aspects of their life. One of those individuals might be you reading this right now and if so, then you are likely to be one of many ‘perfectionists’.

In the journal of Cognitive Therapy and Research, Frost et al. (1990) have defined perfectionism as a personality trait characterised by exceedingly high personal standards, a need for order and organisation, and frequent doubt of the quality of one’s actions. Such characteristics may present themselves in varying degrees, but they are not limited to people of a certain age group or background. For example, I can remember that my own meticulousness started from a very young age. While my behaviour was acknowledged by everyone around me, including friends and teachers who always had me labelled as a perfectionist, it was only in recent years that I understood the extent of my fussiness and both the highs and lows of living with perfectionism.

Dealing with the darker form of perfectionism on a daily basis can be overwhelming. It has the ability to overrule thoughts and overcomplicate situations, making even the simplest tasks difficult. To be overly critical of oneself and to draw false and exaggerated conclusions means that hours are wasted needlessly. Inevitably, this brings with it a multitude of negative emotions ranging from frustration to anxiety. What we cannot overlook, however, are the many upsides to perfectionism – it does contain the word ‘perfect’ after all. The perfectionist is able to yield high standards in their work and their attention to detail is visibly evident, often admired and praised. Most of all, a sense of personal gratification is achieved in every success and it is this inward satisfaction that has the ability to dramatically reduce anxiety.

In extreme cases, where perfectionism is affecting an individual in a far more negative than positive way, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can be used to try and lessen the effects. CBT is a talking therapy, typically used to treat anxiety and depression; it does this by attempting to change damaging thought processes into more optimistic ones. Despite the challenges that perfectionism may bring about, we should remember that being the way we are as unique individuals is something we have to accept. It is important to note that if we understand it, we can play perfectionism to our advantage and reap the benefits.

To find out more about perfectionism, here is a video featuring a CBT therapist from The Private Therapy Clinic:

If you are going through a difficult time, whether it’s regarding perfectionism, another issue, or if you simply want some advice, the university’s counselling service can offer you great support. Visit their website for details:

Image: Davey Brett

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