- What perfectionism actually means;
- Quotes about what it's like to be a perfectionist - as told to us by members of The Depression Project's 3,000,000+ person social media community;
- Signs that you may be a perfectionist;
- The pros and cons of being a perfectionist;
- Cognitive behavioural therapy-based strategies to help you let go of perfectionism - or to put it more accurately, let go of the unhealthy components of perfection that negatively impact your life, while maintaining the healthy components of perfection that have a positive impact on you.
With that being said, as soon as you're ready, let's get started!
The Meaning Of "Perfectionism"
Perfectionism is a personality trait that, generally speaking, can be defined as a persistent striving for flawlessness, coupled with:
- Very high standards;
- Critical evaluation when those standards aren't met.
In particular, perfectionism can take three main forms1:
- Self-oriented perfectionism - which involves placing extremely high (often unrealistic) standards on yourself to achieve "perfection" in one or more areas of life, and then being self-critical anytime those standards aren't met.
- Other-oriented perfectionism - which involves imposing extremely high (often unrealistic) standards and expectations onto other people, and then being critical of them anytime those standards aren't met.
- Socially prescribed perfectionism - which involves believing that one or more other people hold extremely high (often unrealistic) standards for you, and that the only way to be accepted by those people is to meet these standards. Similar to with self-oriented perfectionism, if these standards are then not met, it's likely to result in you being critical of yourself.
Quotes About What It's Like To Be A Perfectionist
A little while ago at The Depression Project, we asked members of our 3,000,000+ person social media community:
What is it like to struggle with perfectionism?
And, right now, we'd like to quote some of the responses:
- "I procrastinate a lot. If I don't have the energy, the confidence or the time to do something perfectly, then I won't even start."
- "It's a rollercoaster, where I feel amazing and good about myself if I'm achieving my goals, and worthless and full of hatred for myself when I don't achieve my goals."
- "Any mistake I make I blow out of proportion and criticise myself for. Often these mistakes are little and trivial - like forgetting something at the grocery store."
- "I put so much pressure on myself to do everything exceptionally well, and when I don't do something to the standards I set for myself, I feel unworthy (as a wife, a mother, a manager at work, a friend, a daughter who's caring for elderly parents, etcetera)."
- "I'd rather stay up all night and do something 'perfectly' than get a good night's sleep and do something at only 80%."
- "I am highly intolerant of my own mistakes, and also those of others. My own mistakes lead to self-hatred; and other people's mistakes have led to me getting angry and criticising them, and to them feeling upset, hurt and like they're walking on eggshells around me. I'm trying to change. For the sake of my relationships and my own mental health, I have to."
- "There are so many things that I don't do, just because I don't want to do them wrong!"
- "I've been accused of being a 'control freak' and of micromanaging others. I have a tendency to point out mistakes other people have made, tell them how I think they can do better, and then taking over and doing it myself if I don't feel like they can do something up to my standards."
- "I feel tired and burned out trying to be everything to everyone, and to always being on the go trying to fulfil all of my responsibilities."
- "I'm a university student, and if I set myself the goal of getting 80% in a test and only get 79%, I beat myself up for being a failure. Throughout the 2.5 years of my degree I've put so much pressure on myself that it's led to depression, and I've had to now take time off to focus on my mental health."
- "When you're a perfectionist, you're your own biggest critic. You put in so much effort to be a good person and do what is expected of you. But, if someone criticises you or points out a mistake, you beat yourself up for being the worst, and it just further damages your self-image."
- "Any time I do anything, it tends to take me much longer than it takes other people. Getting ready in the morning, cooking a meal for my family, whatever I'm working on at work, planning a picnic ... I spend a lot of time analysing every little detail."
- "My daughter recently told me that she's scared to make a mistake around me, because she's worried I'll come down on her like a tonne of bricks. I cried all night. I do not want to be this way - the way my own mother was. That's probably where I learned it from, but it has to stop."
- "I tell myself if I am perfect, then people will like me, I will get that promotion, I'll be fit, I'll be wealthy, I'll be happy, etcetera, etcetera - and then I criticise the hell out of myself anytime I do something imperfect."
- "I always punish myself when I make a mistake - especially if it is in front of others (even if they are not even paying any attention to me). I don't think I will ever stop doing that. I know better ... but knowing it and stopping it are two different things."
- "My worst nightmare is being criticised by others, or having somebody notice and point out a mistake that I made."
- "I'm constantly kicking myself in the gut for not achieving the impossible high standards that I expect from myself."
- "The relentless pursuit of perfection has made me work so hard that I've completely burned myself out."
- "Perfectionism is pushing yourself constantly, and never being 100% satisfied no matter what you accomplish. After all, you can always do better."
- "It has destroyed my last two romantic relationships - a combination of working so hard that I didn't have enough time to dedicate to my partner; and then when I was spending time with them, being overly critical anytime they made a mistake."
- "Perfectionism is like being on a hamster wheel, or like a dog chasing its tail. No matter how hard you try, you will never be perfect, so you're setting yourself up for disappointment. I have learned this after much self-abuse and suffering, and it's only recently that I have started trying to change."
Common Signs / Traits Of Perfectionism
Now that we've looked at what perfectionism means as well as a variety of quotes about the impact that perfectionism can have on you, let's next turn our attention to some of the most common signs / traits of perfectionism.
Common Signs / Traits Of Self-Oriented Perfectionism
Like we've touched upon, some common signs / traits of self-oriented perfectionism include:
- Holding yourself to extremely high (often unrealistic) standards, and shaming and criticising yourself anytime they aren't met.
- Having a fear of failure.
- Tying your self-worth to the achievement of the extremely challenging goals that you set for yourself - and consequently feeling good about yourself when you do achieve your goals, and unworthy / worthless when you don't achieve your goals (this is the "rollercoaster" that one of The Depression Project's community members referred to above in their quote about perfectionism).
- Catastrophising the consequences of making a mistake (for example, by concluding that your "future is over" after not doing as well as you'd wanted to on a university test; by concluding that you're a "terrible employee" and that you'll "never get a promotion" after making a mistake at work; and/or concluding that you're a "hopeless failure" after not achieving a goal that you'd set out to achieve).
- Feeling frequently unsatisfied - or perhaps never being satisfied - with what you accomplish, because you're exclusively focused on the mistakes you made and on what you could have done better.
- Procrastinating doing something - or totally avoiding it all together - due to a fear of not being able to do it "perfectly".
- Constantly working exceptionally hard in an attempt to achieve the extremely challenging goals that you've set for yourself (often at the expense of your health, your relationships and/or other things that are also important to you).
- Rigidly viewing falling short of achieving a goal as a "failure" - including in cases when you only barely fell short of achieving it (such as getting 79% in a test instead of 80% like one of our community members quoted above); and in cases when there were external factors present that may have prevented you from performing up to your potential (such as in the case of you being sick throughout the time that you were trying to achieve your goal).
- Spending what other people may consider an excessively long time on various tasks - in your pursuit of trying to do that task "perfectly".
- Indecisiveness / difficulty making decisions out of fear of making an "imperfect choice" - which in your mind, would likely equate to being a "bad" or a "disappointing" choice. In particular, it's common for perfectionists to spend considerable amounts of time deliberating over what many people would likely consider relatively "minor" decisions.
Common Signs / Traits Of Other-Oriented Perfectionism
- Holding other people to extremely high (often unrealistic) standards, and then being critical of them anytime those standards aren't met.
- Being intolerant of other people's mistakes (including what many people would consider relatively minor mistakes).
- Controlling / micromanaging others - in order to try to make sure that the task in question is done to your extremely high standards.
- A reluctance / unwillingness to delegate tasks - due to lacking confidence in other people's ability to be able to complete those tasks up to your extremely high standards.
- Relationship conflict - as a result of you (often frequently) getting upset and criticising other people when they don't live up to the extremely high (and often unfair) expectations that you have of them.
Common Signs / Traits Of Socially Prescribed Perfectionism
- Believing that others have extremely high expectations of you, and that if these are not met, that there will be severe repercussions - such as being rejected, being judged, severely disappointing others, etcetera. And, while this may in fact be the case, a socially prescribed perfectionist will often perceive these expectations to be much higher than they actually are, and/or perceive the consequences of not meeting such expectations as being much more severe than they actually are.
- Fear of judgement / rejection.
- A high need for approval and acceptance - often because, if you're a socially prescribed perfectionist, this is what your self-worth is predicated on.
- Going to great lengths to hide your imperfections, flaws and/or mistakes from others - out of fear of, for example, rejection, judgment and/or disapproval.
- Strictly conforming to rules, conventions and/or societal norms - due to believing that doing so gives you the best chances of finding approval and acceptance.
- People pleasing - including over-extending yourself by taking on additional tasks and responsibilities at the risk of burnout - in order to, once again, gain acceptance and approval from others.
Common Pros and Cons Of Perfectionism
While we've touched more on the negative consequences of perfectionism thus far in this blog post, there are indeed benefits that can stem from perfectionism as well2. In particular, these often include:
- Being a high achiever - as a result of constantly setting highly ambitious and challenging goals for yourself, working extremely hard to achieve them, and often doing so;
- Being very disciplined, and having a very strong work ethic;
- Being very thorough and having a good eye for detail;
- Being organised and on top of things.
However, in spite of its benefits, as we've alluded to, perfectionism can have a variety of negative consequences, too2. In particular, these commonly include:
- Frequently criticising yourself and/or others;
- Feeling worthless on the occasions when you don't achieve the goals that you've set for yourself;
- Feeling burned out and exhausted from overworking yourself;
- Relationship conflict - due to, for example, constantly being critical of others, and/or because you're so busy working hard to achieve your goals that you don't have as much time for other people as they would like you to have;
- Procrastinating / not doing things that it's in your best interests to do, because you don't feel you'll be able to do them "perfectly";
- Spending so long trying to do one task "perfectly" that you neglect other tasks that are also important;
- As a result of the above common consequences, perfectionism can also lead to depression, anxiety and/or other mental health issues.
What Does "Letting Go Of Perfectionism" / "Overcoming Perfectionism" Actually Look Like?
Like we've just mentioned, there are benefits to perfectionism - and, for this reason, "letting go of perfectionism" / "overcoming perfectionism" / "recovering from perfectionism" / whatever other term you'd like to use does not mean giving up on perfectionism entirely by, for example:
- No longer holding yourself to high standards;
- No longer setting challenging goals for yourself and being a high achiever;
- No longer working hard, and becoming lazy and undisciplined instead;
- No longer being detail-oriented, and becoming sloppy and careless instead;
- No longer being well-organised and on top of things, and becoming disorganised and all over the place instead.
On the contrary, letting go of perfectionism can instead involve letting go of the unhealthy components of perfectionism that lead to negative consequences in your life, while at the same time maintaining the healthy components of perfectionism that have a positive impact on your life.
In practice, this can take the form of, for example:
- Holding yourself (and others) to high standards that are realistic and achievable, as opposed to standards that are unrealistic, unachievable, and therefore guaranteed to result in you feeling disappointed and bad about yourself (or disappointed and frustrated with others).
- Working hard to achieve the challenging goals that you set for yourself, but being self-compassionate if you don't achieve them - as opposed to harshly criticising yourself, feeling like a worthless failure, and consequently falling into a depressive episode.
- Working hard to achieve the challenging goals that you set for yourself, but being mindful of everything else that is important to you as well - so that you don't burn yourself out, compromise your health, and/or neglect your relationships and the other things that matter to you.
- Not tying your self-worth to whether or not you achieve your goals / are "perfect" - so that you're much less likely to procrastinate out of a fear of not doing something perfectly; so that during the times when you don't manage to achieve your goals, you don't hate yourself and feel worthless; and so that you feel worthy of being accepted and loved by others even when you aren't "perfect".
And, with this view of "letting go of perfectionism" in mind, we'd now like to share with you a variety of cognitive behavioural therapy-based strategies to help you do just that!
Strategy #1 To Let Go Of The "Unhealthy" Aspects Of Perfectionism While Maintaining The "Healthy" Aspects: Holding Yourself To "Fairer" Standards And Having "Fairer" Expectations Of Yourself
When it comes to freeing yourself from perfectionistic thinking, this is one of the most important steps you can take. And, on that note, we'd now like to quote you a free excerpt from our cognitive behavioural therapy-based journal You Are Not A Failure that we think you'll find extremely helpful.
Like we mentioned in the introductory section of this journal, when we at The Depression Project asked our community on social media what can trigger the negative thought “I’m a failure”, a common response was perfectionistic thinking. In particular, this is frequently the case when you hold yourself to unfairly high standards / have unfairly high expectations of yourself – and then think that you’re a failure when you don’t inevitably meet them. For example:
- Thinking you’re a failure anytime you make a mistake. However, “I shouldn’t make mistakes otherwise I’m a failure” is an unfairly high standard to hold yourself to / an unfairly high expectation to have of yourself, since all human beings sometimes make mistakes.
- Thinking that you’re a failure any time you don’t achieve a goal that you set out to achieve – including if you only just miss out on achieving that goal. However, “I should achieve all my goals otherwise I’m a failure” is also an unfairly high standard to hold yourself to / an unfairly high expectation to have of yourself, since no human being achieves every single goal that they set out to achieve.
- Thinking that you’re a failure anytime you receive constructive criticism – even if it’s only a little bit of constructive criticism amidst significantly more praise. However, “I should never receive criticism otherwise I’m a failure” is once again an unfairly high standard to hold yourself to / an unfairly high expectation to have of yourself, since no human being is perfect, and consequently, no human being is too “good” or “successful” to receive constructive criticism.
If you engage in perfectionistic thinking like so, then while you can no doubt see how it can trigger the negative thought “I’m a failure”, you may also be reluctant to want to change this way of thinking – because you believe that doing so would involve “lowering your expectations of yourself” or “settling for mediocrity”, for example. However, altering your perfectionistic way of thinking does not have to involve “lowering your expectations of yourself” or “settling for mediocrity”, and nor would we want it to – since after all, it can indeed be extremely beneficial to have high expectations of yourself and to continuously pursue excellence!
Instead, modifying your perfectionistic way of thinking can involve simply holding yourself to fairer standards and having fairer expectations of yourself. For example:
- The unfairly high standard / expectation “I shouldn’t make mistakes otherwise I’m a failure” could be replaced with the much fairer standard / expectation of “I will always try my best to not make mistakes, and on the occasions when I inevitably do make a mistake as a result of being human, I will try my best to learn from it so that I don’t repeat it again”.
- The unfairly high standard / expectation “I should achieve all my goals otherwise I’m a failure” could be replaced with the much fairer standard / expectation of “I will always try my best to achieve the goals that I set for myself, and on the occasions when I fall short of doing so like all human beings sometimes do, I’ll try to learn everything I can from such a setback in order to give myself the best possible chance of achieving that goal the next opportunity I get”.
- The unfairly high standard / expectation “I should never receive criticism otherwise I’m a failure” could be replaced with the much fairer standard / expectation of “I will always pursue excellence and try my absolute best at everything I do, and in the course of doing so, like all human beings, I’m bound to receive constructive criticism from time-to-time. And, anytime this happens, I’ll learn what I can from it, and use it to help me continue improving and improving so that I’m even more capable of achieving excellence moving forwards”.
As you can see, in each of these examples, modifying your perfectionistic thinking did not involve “lowering your expectations of yourself” or “settling for mediocrity” – rather, it just involved being much more fair, reasonable and compassionate with yourself. And, as a result of being much more fair, reasonable and compassionate with yourself, you’re much less likely to think that you’re a “failure”, and consequently, you’re much less likely to feel worthless, miserable, and all of the other painful emotions that this negative thought can trigger. In fact, this can explain why rather than hindering your pursuit of excellence, freeing yourself from the stranglehold of perfectionism can actually help you pursue excellence2.
End of free excerpt
Strategy #2 To Let Go Of The "Unhealthy" Aspects Of Perfectionism While Maintaining The "Healthy" Aspects: Talking Kindly To Yourself Instead Of Being So Self-Critical
Like we've of course talked about, one of the unhealthy aspects of perfectionism is the criticism and negative self-talk that often comes with it. And, for this reason, if you're able to talk much more kindly to yourself instead of being so self-critical, then it can result in you maintaining the benefits of perfectionism while at the same time:
- Reducing negative thoughts;
- Feeling better about yourself;
- Not fuelling depression, anxiety and/or another mental health issue.
With that being said, let's now have a look at two different CBT-based strategies you can implement to talk more kindly to yourself.
When you're engaging in negative self-talk, a helpful question to ask yourself is:
Is there a more positive, self-compassionate, accurate way that I could be looking at things?
Asking yourself this question is an example of "cognitive reframing"3, and the reason why it can be so helpful is because there usually is indeed a more positive, self-compassionate, accurate way of viewing things!
To illustrate how cognitive reframing can work in practice, let's look at a handful of examples that are common when it comes to perfectionism.
Example Negative Thought #1: Thinking “I can’t do anything right” in response to making a mistake.
However, a more positive, self-compassionate and accurate way of viewing this might be:
- “I made a mistake just like everybody does at times, but there are also lots of things that I’ve done well and competently.”
- “I unfortunately made a mistake that I didn’t want to make, but instead of dragging myself down by telling myself that ‘I can’t do anything right’, I’m going to build myself up by trying to learn from this mistake so that I don’t repeat it next time – at which point, I’ll give myself a pat on the back for doing things right!”
- “There are plenty of things that I do well and competently – it’s just that right now, depression / anxiety / another mental health issue’s debilitating symptoms are making it extremely difficult for me to function up to my usual capabilities. Unfortunately, this means that I’m prone to making more mistakes than I usually would.”
Example Negative Thought #2: “I didn’t do as well in my exams as I wanted to, so that means that I’m a stupid failure, and that I’ll never get a good job after university.”
However, a more positive, self-compassionate, accurate way of viewing this might be:
- “Just because I didn’t do as well as I wanted to in my exams, it doesn’t mean that I’m a stupid failure and that I’ll never get a good job. Rather, it just means that I didn’t prepare for these exams as well as I could have, and that for all of my exams moving forwards, I need to prepare better. If I prepare better, then in the future I’ll likely do really well in my exams, and then I’ll be in a really good position to secure the job that I want.”
Asking Yourself The "Golden Question"
A second strategy rooted in cognitive behavioural therapy4 that can help free you from the negative self-talk that's often fuelled by perfectionism is to ask yourself:
“If a loved one was in my position, would I be thinking the same negative, critical things about them that I’m currently thinking about myself?”
Asking yourself this question can be extremely powerful, because it has the effect of distancing you from your negative thoughts and looking at them from a different, more objective angle. And, when you do this, you'll often realise that you’re being really, really hard on yourself.
Additional Resources To Help You Talk More Kindly To Yourself Instead Of Being So Self-Critical
Because being self-critical is so, so common, at The Depression Project, we've created a wide variety of cognitive behavioural therapy-based journals to help you overcome negative thoughts and talk more kindly to yourself. And, if you're a perfectionist, then we think you'll find three of these CBT-based journals extremely helpful in particular:
- You Are Not A Failure - to help you overcome the negative thought "I'm a failure".
- You Do Much More Right Than You Realise - to help you overcome the negative thought "I can't do anything right".
- You Are Not Useless - to help you overcome the negative thought "I'm useless".
Strategy #3 To Let Go Of The "Unhealthy" Aspects Of Perfectionism While Maintaining The "Healthy" Aspects: Not Tying Your Self-Worth To Whether Or Not You Achieve Your Goals Or Whether Or Not You're "Perfect"
Like we've said, when you're a perfectionist, it's very common to tie your self-worth to the achievement of the extremely challenging goals that you set for yourself - and to consequently feel worthless when you don't achieve those goals. And, if you can relate, then we'd like to share a story with you about Danny Baker - who's one of the co-founders of The Depression Project.
A True Story About No Longer Tying Your Self-Worth To Whether Or Not You Achieve Your Goals Or Whether Or Not You're "Perfect"
Sadly, in 2008 Danny collapsed into a crippling spell of depression, that over the next four years led to alcoholism, drug abuse, medicine-induced psychosis and multiple hospitalisations. And, one major trigger of Danny’s depression was that any time he set himself a goal and didn’t achieve it, he felt like a worthless, pathetic, hopeless failure, and he hated himself so much that he felt suicidal. Even more unfortunately, for the first two years that Danny battled depression, he didn’t take any steps to remedy this way of thinking, because he thought:
The main reason why I keep feeling like a hopeless, pathetic, worthless failure is because I keep failing to achieve my goals. So, if I just work really hard to make sure that I ALWAYS achieve my goals, then it means that I’ll stop feeling this way – so that’s what I’ve got to do!
However, no-one in the world always achieves their goals, which is why for two years, Danny just kept on relapsing, and relapsing, and relapsing back into depression. Eventually though, he decided to see a psychologist, which was when he finally learned that one of the contributing factors of his depression was a very unhealthy level of perfectionism - like he talks about in his memoir Depression is a Liar:
‘You relentlessly seek excellence, Danny,’ his psychologist told him, ‘and you always set extremely challenging goals and then throw yourself into achieving them. Being perfectionistically goal-driven like this is fine in and of itself, but the problem with you is that you measure your self-worth entirely in terms of whether or not you achieve these goals. If you don’t achieve a goal that you set out to achieve – like getting an 85% average at university or getting your novel [that Danny was writing] published by a particular point in time – then you hate yourself. You feel worthless and inadequate. You feel like a failure. And, you feel this pain so intensely that you’d rather be dead.
‘You’re human, Danny, and humans, by our very composition, are not perfect. Humans make mistakes. Humans don’t always achieve their goals. You need to accept this, and not be so hard on yourself. You need to accept this, and be able to love yourself regardless. You need to be able to love yourself regardless of how you go in your university exams and no matter what happens with your novel. Even if you fail every exam for the rest of your degree and your novel never gets published, you should still be able to love yourself. You should be able to find elements of yourself that you love that will be there no matter what. That will let you love yourself no matter what.’
So, over the following week, Danny tried really hard to find things he liked about himself that had absolutely nothing to do with achieving his goals. It wasn’t easy for him, since like his psychologist had said, that’s what Danny’s self-love had always been predicated on: if he was achieving his goals, or was on track to, then he loved himself; and if he hadn’t, or was not on track to, then he hated himself. However, after a long time pondering, Danny had finally written a healthy, outcome-independent list of things about himself that he liked.
I like that I’m a kind person – someone who always treats other people with respect.
I like that I’m an honest person who acts with integrity.
I like that I’m compassionate, and that I do volunteer work to try and help others less fortunate than myself.
I like that I’m a loyal friend, son, brother and grandson.
I like that I’m a good, supportive listener, and that I’ll always be there for a loved one in need.
I like that I’m humble – in spite of everyone always telling me that I’ve accomplished a lot.
I like that I’m generous, and always willing to share what I have with others.
I like that I have the determination and the work ethic to pursue my dreams through to completion.
I like the fact that I’m a positive person. I like the fact that even after everything I’ve been though, I still feel tremendously blessed, still feel immensely fortunate to have everything that God has bestowed upon me. I like the fact that instead of thinking of myself as unlucky for having suffered such a severe depression, I think of myself as lucky for having all the support I’m getting to help me beat it.
And, when Danny focused on these things, he could actually see that there really was a lot to love about himself.
Wow, I actually am a good person, he says he remembers thinking at the time. And this really is true – regardless of what my marks are at university and whether or not my novel ever gets published. These are the reasons why I can love myself, and whether I succeed or fail doesn’t compromise them at all.
As a result, for the first time in a very long time, Danny was really able to see the good in himself – and now that he could, he didn’t feel worthless anymore. He didn’t hate himself. He didn’t feel inadequate. Instead, he felt confident and proud of himself.
"OK, that all sounds great in theory," you might be thinking, "but what about the next time Danny didn’t achieve one of his goals? Surely then he’d think of himself as a failure and then just relapse right back into depression again, right?"
Of course, we understand why you might think this, but the answer is no, not anymore – because Danny was finally learning how to love himself for reasons that were not predicated on whether or not he was achieving his goals.
In fact, to show you what happened the next time Danny didn’t achieve one of his goals, we’d like to quote you another excerpt from his memoir Depression is a Liar:
Over the next week, at [my psychologist] Dr Gregor’s instruction I continued reading over my list – in order to help keep all of my healthy reasons to love myself at the forefront of my mind, and to continue embedding them into my subconscious. Each day, I’d read it 50 or 100 times, during random intervals when I had a spare few minutes – such as when I woke up; while I was waiting for a bus; in between classes at uni; or while I was taking a break from studying for my mid-semester exams, which just so happened to be around that time. Thanks to my sessions with Dr Gregor, I’d been feeling much better, and courtesy of a few all-nighters and some help from my friends, I’d been able to catch up on most of the work I’d fallen behind on [as a result of being too depressed to study]. By the 22nd of May, 2010, I’d gotten the marks back for three out of my four subjects, and I’d done well – getting 80% for Monetary Economics, 88% for Advanced Microeconomics Honours, and 90% for Regression Modelling. I’d run out of time to properly catch up on all the material for Mathematical Economics, so I knew I wouldn’t do as well in that one – but, I was hopeful I could scrape together 75%, and due to the other exams luckily being worth more, have my marks balance out to a High Distinction average [which was 85% – my goal for the semester].
The results were due to be released at 5:00 p.m. that day, so after reading through my list of healthy reasons to love myself a couple more times, I logged in to my university’s online portal and went to the “Exams Results” section. As soon as I saw my score, my jaw dropped.
Nine out of 20.
Forty-five per cent.
I couldn’t believe it. I’d never failed an exam at uni before. Never even come close. I was absolutely gutted.
F***ing hell! I thought. A mark like this is really going to drag my average down. It’s really going to make it difficult to get a High Distinction average this semester. This is bad. This is f****d. F**k, f**k, f**k, f**k, f**k.
I stewed in disappointment for the next half an hour before getting changed into my running clothes and heading to the gym. I popped into the bathroom before I went, and then while I was washing my hands, the magnitude of what had just happened hit me square in the face.
Wow! I actually exclaimed out loud. I just got a shocking exam mark back and I didn’t abuse myself! I didn’t call myself a loser or a failure or a f**k up! And I don’t feel inadequate, worthless or suicidal! I only feel disappointed! Not depressed – just disappointed!
I could hardly believe it. Before I saw Dr Gregor, an exam mark like that would’ve shattered me. It would’ve made me hate myself and wish I was dead. But now, all I felt was disappointment – which is a perfectly healthy emotion.
I’ve had a setback, yes, I thought, but that doesn’t mean I’m worthless. It doesn’t mean I’m a loser, a failure, or a f**k up. I’m still the same kind, honest, compassionate, loyal, supportive, humble, generous, determined, positive and strong-minded person I was before I received this exam mark, and instead of falling to pieces like I would have in the past, I’ll learn where I went wrong in this exam, do better next time, and then go on to live a happy, healthy, fulfilling life.
What Are Some Of The Reasons Why You Can Love Yourself That Are Independent Of Whether Or Not You Achieve Your Goals?
As you can see in the above example, once Danny started predicating his self-worth on factors that were independent of whether or not he was achieving his goals, his default response to not achieving his goals was no longer criticising himself, feeling like a worthless failure, and falling into a depressive episode. And, on that note, to help you start predicating your self-worth on factors that are independent of whether or not you achieve your goals, we've published another blog post that we really encourage you to read: Reasons Why You Should Love Yourself.
Strategy #4 To Let Go Of The "Unhealthy" Aspects Of Perfectionism While Maintaining The "Healthy" Aspects: Telling Yourself Positive Affirmations
Positive affirmations are relatively short, uplifting statements designed to help reinforce and encourage, for example:
- A thinking pattern that you'd like to adopt;
- A behaviour that you'd like to adhere to;
- A feeling that you'd like to cultivate.
And, while different positive affirmations will resonate with different people, in order to help you let go of unhealthy perfectionistic habits and thinking patterns and instead reinforce healthy habits and thinking patterns, we'd now like to share some positive affirmations that you may find helpful to tell yourself from time to time:
- "It's OK to not be perfect"
- "Mistakes don't define me, they help me grow"
- "Making a mistake / not achieving a goal does not mean I'm a failure"
- "I give myself permission to be imperfect"
- "I choose progress over perfection"
- "I am not defined by my success or failure"
- "I'm worth so much more than just the goals I achieve"
- "My best is enough"
- "I will not neglect what's important to me in pursuit of perfection"
- "It's better to do something imperfectly than to not do something at all"
- "I am enough just as I am now"
- "I am proud of myself for doing my best"
- "I choose not to be a prisoner of perfectionism"
- "I choose to let go of unrealistic standards"
- "I deserve to be patient and gentle with myself"
- "I will forgive myself for any mistakes I make"
- "I am an imperfect human being, and that's okay"
- "I will pursue excellence, not perfection"
Additional Resources To Help You Let Go Of Perfectionism
In this blog post, we've shared with you a handful of strategies and resources to help you let go of perfectionism. However, if you'd like to learn more - and we encourage you to do so! - then we personally recommend:
The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism: Evidence-Based Skills to Help You Let Go of Self-Criticism, Build Self-Esteem, and Find Balance.
It's written by Sharon Martin, DSW, LCSW - who is a psychotherapist; writer; speaker; media contributor on emotional health and relationships; and has a psychotherapy practice in San Jose, CA - where she specialises in helping individuals overcome codependency and perfectionism, and learn to accept and love themselves.
If you're interested, then you should be able to find this book at your online book retailer of choice :)
Key Takeaways When It Comes To Perfectionism
In this blog post, we've covered quite a lot of ground concerning perfectionism - including what perfectionism means, quotes about what it's like to be a perfectionist, common signs / traits of perfectionism, the pros and cons of perfectionism, and CBT-based strategies you can implement to let go of the unhealthy components of perfectionism. And, before we bring this blog post to a close, we'd just like to reiterate two of the most important points that we have covered:
- There are many benefits to perfectionism - such as being a high achiever, having a strong work ethic, being disciplined, having a strong attention to detail, and being well-organised and on top of things. However, perfectionism can also lead to many negative consequences - including being extremely critical of yourself and/or others; feeling worthless when you don't achieve your goals; feeling burned out and exhausted from overworking; procrastinating doing things that it's in your best interests to do; relationship conflict; and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
- Because perfectionism has its benefits, "recovering from perfectionism" / "overcoming perfectionism" can involve letting go of the unhealthy components of perfectionism that lead to negative consequences in your life, while at the same time maintaining the healthy components of perfectionism that have a positive impact on your life.
From the bottom of our hearts, we really hope that you've found this blog post about "perfectionism" helpful.
All our love,
The Depression Project Team.
Hewitt, P. L., & Flett, G. L. (1991). Perfectionism In The Self And Social Contexts: Conceptualization, Assessment, And Association With Psychopathology. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 60(3), 456–470.