Perfectionists won’t accept anything short of perfect. Although many people consider it a good thing that they set ambitious goals for themselves, their expectations are actually so unattainably high that they feel miserable when they don’t reach them. Here’s a breakdown of 10 traits common in perfectionists.
1. It takes you forever to get anything done
Have you ever sat down to write an essay, only to keep deleting each line you wrote because it wasn’t perfect? Perfectionists often procrastinate at tasks at which they think they won’t excel. Once they decide to begin, they may work at a slow pace, due to their painstaking attention to detail.
Great minds procrastinate, too. The historian Eric T. Bell wrote that if Carl Friedrich Gauss, a 17th century mathematician, hadn’t put off publishing his findings, he would have advanced the field by 50 years.
2. You think in all-or-nothing terms
Maladaptive perfectionists think in terms of failure and success. If they don’t quite reach their goal, they view it as a dismal failure. In contrast, adaptive perfectionists have high goals, yet low levels of procrastination and self-criticism. If they don’t reach a goal, an adaptive perfectionist is more likely to pat themselves on the back, thinking “Hey, I got pretty close”.
3. You prefer to be organized
The self-help book Too Perfect: When Being in Control Gets Out of Control by Jeanette Dewyze and Allan Mallinger argues that perfectionists tend to have obsessive-compulsive personality types. However, OCD is not the same as an obsessive-compulsive personality type, and this is not to say that all perfectionists have OCD.
Rather, perfectionists seek out order because it provides them with a sense of control. Furthermore, activities like cleaning and tidying allow them to correct “imperfections”, of which they have little tolerance.
4. If you aren’t immediately good at a new hobby, you give up
This is especially true for people who were labelled the “gifted” child. They didn’t need to try very hard at school or hobbies and therefore didn’t learn how to persevere through a difficult task. Similarly, if you didn’t have to study in high school, you might only take easy classes in college and miss out on more challenging material.
5. You grew up in a critical household
Did one or both of your parents/caregivers criticize you often, even over little things? Did they expect high achievement academically and athletically? On the Frost Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale, or FMPS, the third and fourth dimensions are “The perception of high parental expectations” and “The perception of high parental criticism”.
The way our guardians talk to us as children becomes our inner voices in adulthood. Those who grew up in critical households are often their own harshest critics and expect perfection from themselves, just as their parents did from them.
6. You have unrealistic standards and expectations
Unrealistic expectations is a defining trait of perfectionism. To quote Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender, “Almost isn’t good enough”.
What separates maladaptive perfectionism from adaptive perfectionism is the former is intensely self-critical for not meeting these goals, whereas the latter celebrates their progress, even if they don’t quite meet their goals.
7. You can’t tolerate physical imperfections in yourself
Perfectionists can’t tolerate flaws. This is often manifested in a desire for physical perfection and worrying over physical flaws. Do you stop and scrutinize an aspect of your body each time you’re in front of the bathroom mirror?
Decades of research has indicated that perfectionism is linked to anorexia nervosa. Perfectionism is also a risk factor for depression, anxiety, social anxiety, OCD, self harm, and heart disease.
8. You’re always looking for ways to improve yourself
This is a positive side of perfectionism. Being fixated on goals isn’t inherently a bad thing so long as you don’t have unrealistic expectations and beat yourself up for inevitably not meeting them.
9. You see mistakes where others don’t see any
A perfectionist might constantly worry over a perceived flaws in their appearance, projects, academics, work, or social interactions that other people don’t notice.
10. Your self-esteem fluctuates
For perfectionists, their self-esteem and self-worth deteriorates at failure (or a perceived failure) and balloons at success. This is neither healthy nor rationale. Ideally, a health self-esteem is a stable core that doesn’t fluctuate with failure or success.
To challenge this way of thinking, try to talk to yourself as you would to friend. It’s okay to make mistakes. Remember, perfectionism is an obstacle, not a standard.