Mental health practitioners agree: trying to be too perfect can be counterproductive.

We hear it as praise all the time. Perfect! Flawless! Impeccable! But can anything truly be perfect? Is perfection even an ideal we should be reaching for?

While it’s up to philosophers to hash out the nature of perfection, psychologists can tell us this: Too much perfectionism is not good for us. Sure, a drive to better ourselves can help us stay committed to challenging tasks and overcome serious obstacles, but psychologists have linked excessive perfectionism with mental health problems such as depression, eating disorders, anxiety and more. * Perfectionism can even increase your risk of death.

So how do you know if your perfectionism is hurting you more than helping? Well, mental health professionals have identified a number of signs we can use to measure whether our need to be perfect is causing more problems than it’s solving. The most common signs include:

You’re a Perfectionist in All Things

It’s one thing to want to be perfect in your profession. It’s a whole other thing to want to be perfect in every single task you face. For instance, unless you’re a chef, you shouldn’t be too upset when you overcook a steak or your pasta dish doesn’t come out as beautifully as the pictures in the cookbook. If you find yourself getting terribly frustrated every time you fall short of perfection, no matter the task, your perfectionism is likely harming your quality of life.

You’re an All or Nothing Person

If you believe that second place is really just the first loser, your perfectionism may be warping your ability to strive for realistic success. True success is not either/or and it’s not a finite resource. You can be successful—and take pride in your success—without being the absolute best or the only one at the top.

You Crave Approval

Who judges perfection? In the minds of many perfectionists, it’s other people. This tends to make perfectionists desire approval above all else. If you find yourself focusing more on what people say about your efforts than on the efforts themselves, your perfectionism is negatively affecting your priorities.

Feedback Makes You Defensive

We all tend to get upset if someone says something unkind to us. But there’s a difference between a cruel comment and one intended to help you improve. Perfectionists have a hard time distinguishing between the two and will often lash out at constructive feedback. Your perfectionism is not helping you if you have a hard time sitting through a performance review without getting into an argument.

You’re Highly Critical of Others

If you feel as if you have to be the best all the time, you may resort to tearing other people down to make yourself feel elevated. While we’re all critical of others from time to time, a level of perfectionism that leads you to be constantly critical can hurt your professional standing and cause you to lose friends.

You’re a Big Procrastinator

One of the core aspects of harmful perfectionism is a fear of failure. In many people, this fear manifests in avoidance behavior like procrastination. If you don’t do the task, you can’t fail, right? But that kind of thinking can put you endlessly behind on deadlines and add a lot of stress to your life.

You’re Full of Guilt

If you feel as if you have to be your best no matter what, any mistake, however small, can feel like a significant failure. This can make you feel as if you’re constantly failing, which can, in turn, lead to a persistent sense of guilt. If you often feel as if you’re always letting others and yourself down, your perfectionism is getting in your way of enjoying life.

How Can You Learn More About Perfectionism?

Perfectionism is one of the most fascinating issues in psychology, as it can both benefit and harm us. If you’re interested in learning about perfectionism and other issues of psychology, you should consider earning an MS in Psychology. This advanced degree in psychology can prepare you to work in academia or in a variety of other fields. In fact, there are careers in psychology in every type of industry.

Best of all, to earn your master’s in psychology, you don’t have to attend a campus-based school of psychology. Instead you can enroll in an online university and complete the majority of your master’s program in psychology from home and on a schedule that can allow you to continue working full time. Plus, the convenience and flexibility of an online master’s in psychology program can allow you to complete your psychology degree faster and for less cost than you might expect.

Perfectionism is one of the many ways our minds can help or harm us. You can learn a lot more when you earn a master’s degree in psychology online.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online MS in Psychology degree program. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


*E. Benson, The Many Faces of Perfectionism, Monitor on Psychology, on the internet at www.apa.org/monitor/nov03/manyfaces.aspx.

†R. Rettner, The Dark Side of Perfectionism Revealed, LiveScience, on the internet at www.livescience.com/6724-dark-side-perfectionism-revealed.html.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

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