We live in a society that certainly encourages us to aim for perfection. However, that’s a dangerous aim. It’s one thing to try to do your best. However, no one is perfect, and to ask yourself to be so creates a whole slew of problems. In particular, perfectionism plays a huge role in anxiety disorders.
Perfectionism and Anxiety: A Cycle
Perfectionism and anxiety go hand-in-hand, creating a cycle that can be hard to break out of.
When you become overly focused on reaching perfection, you worry constantly. You want to do better, be better, achieve more … and as you focus on that, your worry can turn to anxiety. “What if I can’t do good enough?” becomes more than just a passing concern and turns into an obsessive, immobilizing fear.
It can go the other way as well: your anxiety disorder can cause perfectionism. In an effort to ease your anxiety, you try to make things perfect. You can never control everything, but you aim to do so through striving for perfection. Of course, something always goes wrong, which reinforces your anxiety that you can’t do well enough.
Symptoms of Perfectionism
When you’re obsessed with being perfect, it’s often hard to see the flaws of perfectionism. Here are some of the symptoms to look out for:
- No matter how great you do, it never feels like it’s enough.
- You work hard to present a façade of perfection to others but feel like you’re a fraud.
- You assume that you must achieve certain things or people won’t like you.
- If you can’t immediately do something perfectly then you won’t do it at all.
- You beat yourself up when receiving even the slightest criticism.
- If you don’t do “good enough” then you feel like you “aren’t enough.”
- You constantly feel like the other shoe is about to drop and you’re going to fail.
- You’re obsessed with managing your online image.
- Focusing on getting something done perfectly impacts your sleep, eating, and social life.
- You never enjoy the process of doing anything because you’re always looking at the end product.
- Oftentimes, you fail to complete simple tasks. People may not realize it’s because you didn’t think you’d done it perfectly enough, so you just didn’t turn in the work.
- You seek validation and reassurance from others but then don’t believe them.
What’s the Problem with Perfectionism?
Many people imagine that if they stop aiming for perfection then they will essentially fail at life. They won’t be successful, no one will love them, and they will never be happy. The ironic thing is that perfectionism is actually holding them back from each of those things, even though they can’t see it.
Perfectionism exacerbates anxiety disorders, but that’s not the only problem with trying too hard to be perfect. Some of the other risks include:
- Self-hatred, self-loathing, or low self-esteem
- Lack of enjoyment in anything in life
- Exhaustion, overwhelm, and fatigue
- Eating disorders and/or self-harm behavior
- Lack of satisfying social connections
- Increased likelihood of depression
- Higher risk of suicide than the average person
Perfectionist tendencies trick you into thinking that if you just do better than everything will be fine. However, the reality is that you have to break with perfection in order to improve your life.
Treatment for Perfectionism-Related Anxiety
In order to resolve the problem, you’ll want to work with a therapist who is able to assist with both perfectionism and anxiety disorders. The two things go hand-in-hand, and tackling both is your best bet at healing.
Luckily, many of the techniques used to improve one will help with the other. For example, treatment for perfectionism in anxiety may include:
- Replacing negative self-talk with affirmations
- Practicing grounding and centering exercises including deep breathing
- Engaging in positive activities with people who support you
- Meditation and/or mindfulness practice
- Using CBT to become aware of perfectionist thinking
- Using exposure/response to overcome avoidance of those things that trigger perfectionism and/or anxiety
- Stress-reduction exercises and techniques
You may not believe it, yet, but you are perfect exactly as you are. Your “imperfections” are what make you uniquely you and that’s a wonderful, beautiful thing. As you come to see this, it will help with your anxiety.