The dangers of perfectionism: Counselling for help with not feeling good enough
When you think about the word perfectionism what comes to mind? Is it a word with a positive or negative connotation? Being perfectionistic much like being ambitious is often a trait that’s celebrated as a virtue in our culture, a sign of high standards, a commitment to the highest quality. What’s often not elucidated is all the difficult feelings that can hide unconsciously underneath the drive toward being perfect. In one respect we could think of perfectionism as a behavioural response to dealing with an inner crisis - the crisis of a lack of worth, an absence of quality, feelings of a lack of value. Perfectionism can be a strategy designed to banish feelings of unworthiness or an absence of quality by possessing or becoming that which is felt to be flawless. Freud might have described this phenomenon as a ‘reaction formation’ - the process by which one feels a particular set of painful feelings and is driven toward acquiring or becoming their opposite. Being caught in the trap of perfectionism is often a very difficult and painful place to be and like so many of our troubles exacerbated by the real ‘meat’ of the issue being hidden and unconscious.
In recent research released early this year and discussed in The Independent, perfectionism has now been linked with suicidality.
According to the article in The Independent (which you can find here):
‘Researchers at the University of Western Ontario interviewed friends and family of people who had committed suicide and found that 56% of those deceased exhibited a “perceived external pressure to be perfect…
Similarly, research conducted in 2013 found that 68% adolescents who had committed suicide were known for expressing high demands and expectations, common characteristics of perfectionism..’
As one might imagine because perfectionism involves a persistent hyper idealisation, it creates the experience of failing to live up to one’s own standards, the invevitable consequence of which is feeling like a failure. This is a tragic paradox in which one’s exaggerated ideals (that are in themselves designed to elevate ourselves from low self esteem) end up causing more of it - sometimes to the point where people cannot cope nor see a way out.
Perfectionism can be a very difficult thing to live with, it’s something that sabotages relationships, careers, families and is a complex expression of how we feel about ourselves. Help and change however are possible. If you’re struggling with such feelings and recognise the pitfalls of perfectionism you can feel free to reach me on 07717 515 013 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I offer counselling in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire.