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Perfectionism is the term often used to describe being ‘perfect’ or doing something perfectly. Many people assume that it must be a good thing. However, perfectionism involves putting extreme pressure on ourselves to meet incredibly high (unrelenting) standards, which then powerfully influences the way we think about ourselves.

There is a big difference between the healthy and helpful pursuit of excellence and the unhealthy and unhelpful striving for perfection.  On one end of the spectrum are people who take pleasure from doing difficult tasks, setting high standards for themselves, and putting in the necessary effort and energy for high achievement.  On the other end of the spectrum are those who are unable to take satisfaction from their efforts due to their unrelenting, and often unrealistic goals and standards. Since mistakes are unacceptable to them, perfectionism often provides these students with little pleasure and results in large amounts of self-criticism.


Some of the behaviours that may indicate problematic perfectionism include:

  • A tendency to become highly anxious, angry or upset about making mistakes
  • Procrastination and difficulty completing required tasks
  • Becoming easily frustrated and giving up easily
  • A heightened fear or worry about embarrassment or humiliation
  • Being overly cautious and thorough in tasks (for example, spending 3 hours a task that should take 20 minutes)
  • Trying to improve things by rewriting
  • Extreme emotional reactions or self-criticism when things don’t go perfectly or as expected
  • Refusal to try new things and risk making mistakes

When people are extremely self-critical, and their perfectionism affects their day-to-day enjoyment and activities, psychological therapy can be indicated.