Perfectionism can best be described as the search for the unobtainable or unachievable. Individuals caught up in perfectionistic thinking or behavior commonly experience significant personal distress as well as chronic health and emotional problems. Such individuals can also provoke extremely negative reactions from others due to their unrealistically high standards and quest to avoid failure and rejection.

Be aware that perfectionism should not be confused with the desire to obtain excellence. Unlike perfectionism, the desire for excellence is the desire to do the very best possible, not the quest for the unobtainable.

In the extreme, perfectionism is like an obsession. Examples of perfectionistic behavior include making sure that everything has its place, that one is always completely organized, or that tasks are worked or overworked for long periods of time. The motto “a place for everything and everything in its place” fits many who score high on this scale.

Perfectionism is based on a belief that unless I am perfect, I am not okay. Perfectionists believe that they cannot be happy or enjoy life because they are not perfect. One does not have to be a compulsive organizer to be a perfectionist. Frequently holding oneself or others to unrealistic standards can, by itself, result in stress.

Perfectionistic thinking also can be a negative force in one’s life. Perfectionists are typically driven by fear, primarily the fear of failure.

Perfectionism is an intense competition with oneself. Like anger, perfectionism is one of the behavioral predictors of coronary heart disease and other physical problems. A high score on this scale is an important risk factor for such problems.

Things You Can Do To Help Perfectionism

Set realistic expectations Most perfectionists try to do too much at one time and frequently set extremely high standards for themselves and others. Setting high standards is not the problem. Setting standards that cannot be realistically attained is the problem, and it can be self-destructive.

Evaluate expectations to see if you are trying to do too much, for too many. Determine if you expect too much from others, particularly those close to you, such as a spouse or child. Adjust unrealistic expectations to levels that will ensure success and mutual satisfaction. Goals that stretch people are fine. Goals that break people are not.

Deal with your fear of failure Since fear of failure motivates the perfectionist, ask yourself: “What is the worst thing that could happen if I didn’t do everything just perfectly?”

Practice leaving some things undone or not as “perfect” as you would normally. Most things can wait a day or two. Distinguish between life’s essentials and nonessentials, so you know where to place your effort and energy. Misplaced effort results only in greater disappointment.

Be careful not to overgeneralize perfectionistic behaviors to all aspects of your life. Some things need to be done very well; others can be left a little less perfect than you would like.

Keeping standards reasonable does not mean you will necessarily produce an inferior product or produce less.

Take time for you Perfectionists often do not know what their true needs are or how to go about meeting those needs. Recognize that your needs are important and that your drive to always be perfect may be learned through years of practice motivated by the voice of a parent saying, “You are not good enough. Do it better. Be better. Never be satisfied.”

Let go Learn the art of “letting go.” Remember, there is a time to turn off the computer, put the pen down, and call it a day. Letting go is one of the best techniques you can learn.