Having high expectations for ourselves and others, being extremely well organised, meeting clearly defined goals and having a well established routine, are all qualities that are reinforced in western culture. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with establishing these habits, although it often puts people at risk of psychological distress resulting from relative inflexibility in the face of difficulties.
Having perfectionistic standards often results in low self-esteem, an inability to enjoy experiences in the “here and now”, frustration toward others who do not share certain standards and exhaustion due to the relentless drive for self-improvement. Interestingly, studies demonstrate that those having perfectionistic standards tend to have less professional success as a result of impaired productivity.
Psychological science has demonstrated that high levels of perfectionism predicts psychological difficulties (depression, anxiety, anger, eating disorders, adjustment to chronic pain, etc) due to a reduction in psychological flexibility (an ability to apply a broad range of adaptive coping strategies during a period of substantial change).
In recent years novel psychological strategies have been used to temper clients’ perfectionistic tendencies. A range of strategies, including cognitive (eg challenging fear of failure), behavioural (eg exposing clients to the submission of work that is below their preferred standard) and mindfulness ( eg promoting non-judgement and cultivating acceptance) strategies assist in increasing the client’s psychological flexibility and in turn reduce the intensity and duration of distress.
At Peter Walker and Associates a number of clinicians have an interest in perfectionism and it has become an area of specialty.