What it is: While healthy striving is associated with achieving one’s goals, perfectionism involves setting extremely high and often unreachable standards for oneself. Perfectionists tie their sense of self-worth to achievement at the highest levels in one or more areas of their lives, and they have a very difficult time falling short of these impossibly high standards. Whereas healthy striving allows people to learn from missteps and failure, perfectionists are intolerant of even small failures and often work to avoid failure at all costs (including avoiding tasks altogether to prevent failing at them). Perfectionists tend to be high on self-criticism and self-loathing and have a low or contingent sense of self-worth (“I’m worthy only when I’m perfect”).
Perfectionism tends to create intense emotional experiences and is strongly associated with shame. Shame is an emotion associated with high physiological arousal (heart racing, nausea, tension) and an urge to do one of three things: hide or disappear, attack or defend, or people-please and peace-make. Shame is also associated with the cognitive experience of believing we are “not enough” or that we are innately or intrinsically defective and not worthy of key human experiences (e.g., love and belonging).
Associated Concerns: Perfectionism and shame concerns can be the underpinning of many other mental health experiences, such as mood disturbance, anxiety and stress , eating disorders, or traumatic experiences. In coping with shame, some individuals develop substance abuse or anger management concerns.
Evidence Based Treatments offered: Self-compassion informed therapy, CBT, DBT