One of the most challenging issues I confront in people who seek my help is perfectionism. These are people with very high standards who continually work to meet their goals-admirable qualities most would agree. When it is extreme, however, the relentless pursuit of achievement can lead to a great deal of misery for the individual and for the people in their lives.
SIGNS OF A PERFECTIONIST
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Do you know someone like this? They are up late at night finishing a project for work or doing housework. They are pushing their kids relentlessly (and that’s the key word) to do better at sports, homework, managing their appearance or cleaning their room. With themselves the most frequent focus is on an inability to accept setbacks or “failure” when the definition for failure is very low. They are hard on themselves if they are sad or upset. A frequent complaint is, “I shouldn’t be whining” when they have very legitimate causes for feeling blue. It’s a difficulty perceiving when they need to slow down, to get to sleep, to see a doctor for a problem when it won’t go away because they don’t allow time for taking care of themselves. The response when loved ones try to intervene is, ” I CAN’T…I HAVE TO finish this or get this done first”. Everything comes before what those around them see as the more important priority. Because they are so stressed by their internal demands they often fail to get things done thereby worsening the cycle. Even when they do a good job with something they rarely experience a sense of satisfaction because they are intensely self-critical and will always find flaws in their accomplishments.
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PERFECTIONISTS, EATING DISORDERS & COMPULSIVE EXERCISE
Physical appearance is a common focus for women with eating disorders as a high risk. Teenagers who are prone to perfectionism can easily fall in to the trap of focusing on their bodies because they can have the greatest control over their own bodies when much of the rest of their lives is under the control of parents and teachers. Eating disorders are an epidemic in our culture where advertising, movies and TV all push women to have the appearance that few achieve. The images we see of magnificent celebrities are of people who are paid very high for their exceptional beauty and even they must work relentlessly with dieting, physical workouts, makeup artists, hairdressers and image consultants to achieve what the public gets to see.