Showing posts with label Perfectionism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Perfectionism. Show all posts

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Coping with Perfectionism

Many people in various stages in my life has told me every now and then that they think I am a perfectionist. I am not too sure the actual definition of a person who has perfectionism as character traits. But I think to some extend I have some of the characteristics in some areas of my life, not every area.

I hope to understand what is Perfectionism, how it is affecting me and what can I do to manage or change areas that need to be changed. I suspect that sometimes this character trait is the culprit to some of my relapses of severe depression. And it is probably the reason why when I am well or manic, I will try and do 101 things and pushed myself so hard that I go through a lot of stress and strain. I think is crucial for me to understand how this character trait is affecting me adversely as it will help greatly in my management of depression and bipolar.

I found this very helpful article on What is Perfectionism on for Coping with Life's Stressors

What is perfectionism?

Perfectionism is:

  • the irrational belief that you and/or your environment must be perfect
  • the striving to be the best, to reach the ideal, and to never make a mistake
  • an all pervasive attitude that whatever you attempt in life must be done letter perfect with no deviation, mistakes, slip ups, or inconsistencies
  • a habit developed from youth that keeps you constantly alert to the imperfections, failings, and weakness in yourself and others
  • a level of consciousness that keeps you ever vigilant to any deviations from the norm, the guidelines, or the way things are "supposed to be''
  • the underlying motive present in the fear of failure and fear of rejection, i.e., if I am not perfect I will fail and/or I will be rejected by others
  • a reason why you may be fearful of success, i.e., if I achieve my goal, will I be able to continue, maintain that level of achievement
  • a rigid, moralistic outlook that does not allow for humanism or imperfection
  • an inhibiting factor that keeps you from making a commitment to change habitual, unproductive behavior out of fear of not making the change "good enough''
  • the belief that no matter what you attempt it is never "good enough'' to meet your own or others' expectations

What irrational beliefs contribute to perfectionism?

  • Everything in life must be done to your level of perfection, which is often higher than anyone else's.
  • It is unacceptable to make a mistake.
  • You must always reach the ideal no matter what.
  • If those in authority say this is the way it is supposed to be, then that is the way it is supposed to be.
  • You are a loser if you cannot be perfect.
  • It is what you achieve rather than who you are that is important.
  • I have no value in life unless I am successful.
  • There is no sense in trying to do something unless I can do it perfectly, e.g., "I don't attempt things I can't do well.''
  • If I have a failure or experience a set back in my efforts to change then I should give up.
  • The ideal is what is real; unless I reach the ideal I am a failure.
  • There are so many roadblocks and pitfalls to keep me from succeeding. It is better just to give up and forget my goal.
  • Unless I am "Number One'' there is no sense in trying. Everyone knows what "Number Two'' is. To win is the only acceptable goal.
  • If you screw up in your efforts to achieve a goal, just give up. It must be too hard to achieve.
  • You must always strive to reach the ideal in everything you do because it is in the achievement of the ideal that you give meaning to your life.
  • Don't ever let anyone know what goal you're working on. That way they won't consider you a failure if you don't reach it.
  • If you can't do it right the first time, why try to do it at all?
  • There is only one way to reach a goal: the right way.
  • It takes too much effort and energy to reach a goal. I save myself the aggravation and discouragement by not setting goals for myself.
  • I'll never be able to change and grow the way I want to, so why try.
  • I am a human being prone to error, frailty and imperfections; therefore, I won't be able to accomplish things in a perfect or ideal way. I'll just give up on achieving any of my goals or desires.
What are some negative consequences of perfectionism?

Examples of the negative consequences of perfectionism include:

Low self-esteem. Because a perfectionist never feels "good enough'' about personal performance, feelings of being a "failure'' or a "loser'' with a lessening of self-confidence and self-esteem may result.

Guilt. Because a perfectionist never feels good about the way responsibility has been handled in life (by himself or others) a sense of shame, self recrimination, and guilt may result.

Pessimism. Since a perfectionist is convinced that it will be extremely difficult to achieve an "ideal goal,'' he can easily become discouraged, fatalistic, disheartened, and pessimistic about future efforts to reach a goal.

Depression. Needing always to be "perfect,'' yet recognizing that it is impossible to achieve such a goal, a perfectionist runs the risk of feeling down, blue, and depressed.

Rigidity. Needing to have everything in one's life perfect or "just so'' can lead a perfectionistic to an extreme case of being inflexible, non-spontaneous, and rigid.

Obsessiveness. Being in need of an excessive amount of order, pattern, or structure in life can lead a perfectionistic person to become nit-picky, finicky, or obsessive in an effort to maintain a certain order.

Compulsive behavior. Over-indulgence or the compulsive use of alcohol, drugs, gambling, food, shopping, sex, smoking, risk-taking, or novelty, is often used to medicate a perfectionist who feels like a failure or loser for never being able to be "good enough'' in life.

Lack of motivation. Believing that the goal of "change'' will never be able to be ideally or perfectly achieved can often give a perfectionist a lack of motivation to attempt change in the first place, or to persevere if change has already begun.

Immobilization. Because a perfectionist is often burdened with an extreme fear of failure, the person can become immobilized. With no energy, effort or creative juices applied to rectify, improve, or change the problem behavior in the person's life, he becomes stagnant.

Lack of belief in self. Knowing that one will never be able to achieve an idyllic goal can lead a perfectionist to lose the belief that he will ever be able to improve his life significantly.

What rational behaviors are needed to overcome perfectionistic tendencies?

To overcome perfectionism one needs to:

  • accept self as a human being
  • forgive self for mistakes or failings
  • put self back on the wagon immediately after falling off
  • accept that the ``ideal'' is only a guideline or goal to be worked toward, not to be achieved 100%
  • set realistic and flexible time frames for the achievement of a goal
  • develop a sense of patience and to reduce the need to "get it done yesterday''
  • be easier on oneself; setting unrealistic or unreasonable goals or deadlines sets you up for failure
  • recognize that the human condition is one of failings, weakness, deviations, imperfections, and mistakes; it is acceptable to be human
  • recognize that one's backsliding does not mean the end of the world; it is OK to pick oneself up and start all over again
  • develop an ability to use "thought stopping'' techniques whenever you find yourself mentally scolding yourself for not being "good enough''
  • visualize reality as it will be for a "human'' rather than for a "super human''
  • learn to accept yourself the way you are; let go of the ideas of how you "should be''
  • enjoy success and achievement with a healthy self-pride, and eliminate the need for self deprecation or false humility
  • learn to enjoy success without the need to second guess your ability to sustain the achievement
  • reward yourself for your progress, to reinforce your efforts to change even when progress is slight or doesn't meet up to your idealistic expectations
  • love yourself; to believe that you deserve good things
  • to eliminate unrealistic expectations and the idea that you are infallible
  • visualize yourself as "winning'' even when it takes more energy, and more perseverance, than what you had planned
  • let go of rigid, moralistic judgments of your performance and to develop an open, compassionate understanding for the hard times, obstacles, and temptations
  • be flexible in setting goals and be willing to reassess your plan from time to time to keep things realistic
  • be open to the idea that you will be successful in your efforts to change, even if you are not "first,'' "the best,'' "the model,'' "the star pupil,'' "the exemplar,'' "the finest''
  • realize that the important thing is to be going in a positive direction

How can a social support system help in overcoming perfectionism?

Social support systems can help you overcome perfectionism if you:

  • select realistic people who are not perfectionistic in their own life
  • encourage your support system members to not be rigid or moralistic in their attempts to keep you on an honest course
  • have support people who role model forgiving and forgetting when mistakes, failures, offenses, or backsliding occur
  • have given them permission to call you on being "too hard,'' "too brutal,'' "too rigid,'' "too unrealistic,'' or "too idealistic'' in your expectations
  • have people who will give positive reinforcement for any positive change, no matter how small or slight it is
  • select trustworthy people who are open, honest, and have a sincere interest in your personal growth

Steps to overcome perfectionism

Step 1: In your journal, answer the following questions:

a. What characteristics of perfectionism are true for me? How do these perfectionistic traits impede my efforts to change my problematic behavior?

b. What irrational beliefs of perfectionists do I ascribe to? How do these beliefs influence my desire to change? How do these beliefs contribute to a failure script in my efforts to change? What rational alternatives can I adopt to reduce the negative impact of perfectionism in my life?

c. What are the negative consequences of perfectionism in my life? What am I doing to address these negative issues in my life? How do these negative issues affect my past and current efforts to change my problematical behavior?

d. What new rational behavior do I need to develop in order to overcome the negative impact of perfectionism? How will these new behavior traits help me to fully achieve change in my life?

e. How can my social support system help me in overcoming my perfectionistic attitude? What contributes to perfectionism in my support system? What changes in my support system would reduce its perfectionistic character?

f. How does dealing with my perfectionism help me in my efforts to change? How well does perfectionism explain why past attempts to change have failed?

Step 2: In your journal, identify a problematic behavioral pattern you want to change; then list the characteristic negative behavior traits of the pattern. For each of the negative characteristics list positive alternative behavior traits. For each of the new alternative behavior list your likelihood of achieving them 100% of the time. How many new behavior traits could you achieve 100% of the time?

Step 3: Once you have recognized that no change can be achieved 100% of the time, continue changing your problematic behavior patterns. If you continue to be hindered by perfectionism, return to Step 1 and begin again.

( is a Public Service of James J. Messina, Ph.D. & Constance M. Messina, Ph.D., Email: ©1999-2007 James J. Messina, Ph.D. & Constance Messina, Ph.D. Note: Original materials on this site may be reproduced for your personal, educational, or noncommercial use as long as you credit the authors and website.)

Hmm... It's going to take me quite some time to digest the above information. But one quick look through, I can identify some of the things mentioned above :)

I recognize that there are pros and cons in every situation and character traits. It has its strength and weaknesses. I hope I can try to make better use of its strength and minimize the adverse effect of it's weaknesses.

I will try to work through the list slowly to identify the traits that I have and also try Steps to overcome perfectionism given above. I pray God will help me to manage my perfectionism so that it will not bring me down into depression again but that it can work for my good and others good. I hope to share with you my findings next week if I managed to work through this article. I think it is very helpful to me.

How about you? Do you also have some perfectionism in your character traits? Or are you the more easy going type? How do you cope? What are the advantages or disadvantages you have experienced due to it?

I hope you will find this article useful to you too if you also struggle to cope with perfectionism :-)

Thanks for stopping by. Do leave a comment and share your thoughts with me, if any, as I really love to hear from you :)

Thank you. Take care. Have a great weekends!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Checking my thought patterns - Part 1

Thank God for seeing me through another day at work. I have 3 more days with this part-time job as it will end on this Friday, 22 Feb. This Thursday, 21 Feb, I am on leave to go for my follow-up with my psychiatrist, Dr Pauline Sim. I look forward to see Dr Sim as she has been very encouraging and helpful in treating my condition.

Today, I thank God for sending some reminders to me on how to manage my condition, through my friend, Grace. Grace has been very prayerful, encouraging, kind and supportive in many ways. Grace helped me to get this part-time job in her office and sometimes we do get to lunch together and have some fellowship. I thank God for that. Grace shared with me about a book she is reading recently on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which talks about the way our thoughts affect our moods and behaviours. I am reminded through my conversation with Grace that I need to constantly be more aware of my thoughts and how they affects my moods and behaviours.

Last year when I began to try to understand depression and how best to manage it, I read about the 10 most common faulty thinking patterns that can either lead to a depressive episode or aggravate an episode. Dr David P Murray did a very excellent analysis of these 10 faulty thinking patterns in his 3rd lecture "The Condition" from the series "Depression and the Christian".

In his 4th lecture "The Causes", Dr David P Murray, said
In Lecture 3 we looked at 10 false thinking patterns which contribute to depression. It cannot be emphasised enough how vital it is to learn to recognise these unhelpful thoughts by prayerful self examination. It is also important and useful to note that some of these habits of thinking may be involuntarily absorbed or learned in early life and so may be deeply ingrained. When we feel down, or when we are stressed, these latent false thinking patterns tend to occur more frequently and tend to dominate. This can often lead to depression, worsen an existing depression, and, if persisted in, make recovery from depression so much harder. Sometimes, the Church can reinforce or add to false thinking patterns by over-emphasis on the negatives in the Bible and in people’s lives, or by setting standards of commitment which may discourage or depress those who are unable to attain them.
I do recognize that I have some of these faulty or unhelpful thinking patterns and they are more prominent during a relapse of depression. I am not sure whether they are the triggering factors or they are a result of the depression. I am still trying to recognize them and change them so that I can think more logically and biblically. I also realized that I have some character traits that may make me more prone to mood swings.

I read that it is important to be more aware or recognize these character traits or faulty/unhelpful thinking patterns, and then challenge and change them with more logical or biblical thoughts/behaviours.

Some of the character traits or faulty/unhelpful thinking patterns that I am learning to recognize are:

1) Perfectionism or Setting Unrealistic Expectations

Quite a number of people in my life have told me that they think I have very high expectations of myself and that I am some kind of a perfectionist. Actually, personally I do not see myself that way most of the time. I just want to do my level best in whatever I do. But sometimes when I think through it, I think that they have a point. I do not have high expectations of myself all the time and in every area. But in certain things, I tend to push myself rather hard without realizing it. Indirectly, I set unrealistic expectations of myself or goals that more unattainable which resulted in my being very stressed up or more prone to fail in my own eyes.

I suspect this is one reason why I felt very stressed for the first 2 days of work recently, as I was trying too hard to do a perfect job! Thank God for Anne who reminded me that I was being too hard on myself and that I should learn to commit my work to the Lord in prayers daily and just do my best. Thank God too for bro Arthur who told me not to be too discouraged over the fact that I made mistakes at time as that is part and parcel of work. So I am learning now to pray for wisdom and strength from God and just do my best, but not expect perfection of myself.

(Thank God also for bro Yew Hoong who reminded me to pace myself slowly and not over-strain, and for Grace who reminded me that I can take time off if I need to as the department is flexible with the hours. Thank God too for bro Hwee Kwan who reminded me to eat! I have to constantly remind myself to drink and get up to stretch myself sometimes as I can be very engrossed in my work and sit for hours without getting up.)

I think due to this perfectionism trait in my character, I am prone to have unhelpful/false "shoulds" thinking pattern which Pastor David P Murray explained as follows:

False “shoulds”

Our lives may be dominated by “shoulds…” or “oughts”, applied to ourselves or others. This heaps pressure on us and others to reach certain unattainable standards and causes frustration and resentment when we or others fail.

Life example: The busy mother who tries to keep as tidy and orderly a house as when there were no children is putting herself under undue pressure to reach unattainable standards.

Spiritual example: The conscientious Christian who feels that despite being responsible for meals and raising children, that she ought to be at every prayer meeting and service of worship, and also reading good books and feeling close to God.

Biblical example: Martha felt deep frustration that Mary was not fulfilling what she felt were her obligations and complained bitterly about it (Luke 10:40-42).

I realized that sometimes I do have a habit of saying "I must", "I have to", "I've got to", "I should"and "I need". Some of these statements may look reasonable as I think of them, but when put into context, they become clearly unreasonable. I read somewhere about the following:
"should" and "must" statements have little practical purpose. They usually remind us of what we are not doing and increase unnecessary guild and disappointment.

Unrealistic expectations occur when you attempt to be perfect and faultless at everything you undertake and in control of all situations.... This thinking style results in you having very little patience and tolerance with your own and other's weaknesses and bad habits. If you make a mistake or hurt someone, you will probably continue to criticise yourself long after everyone else has forgotten about it.
Reversing the habit

It found it helpful when I learn to use "I would prefer" instead of "I must" or "I would like to" instead of "I have to". When I think in terms of preferences instead of vital needs or demands, it remove a lot of pressure. In terms of work, it is helpful when I learn to think of what is reasonable rather than what is ideal. Sometimes the effort to make an 80% job into a 100% job is simply not worth the emotional strain. I need to learn to understand my limitations and to work within it. This way it will be less stressful for me and less disappointments.

This is a lesson that I will probably need to learn and relearn over and over again as the perfectionism trait or faulty "should" thinking pattern is too much a part of me. But I pray that God will enable me to pray and look to Him daily for grace to recognize and overcome these unhelpful thoughts and to learn to depend upon Him and just do my best as He enables me.

To be continued.........