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Excellence or Perfectionism?

Updated: Nov 9, 2020

People joke about being a perfectionist and often see it as a desirable trait, but it is important to establish there is a difference between striving for excellence and perfectionism.

Pursuing excellence is a healthy form of perfectionism; it is striving to produce high quality work within a realistic standard, where the process is as enjoyable as the outcome and both positive and negative feedback is welcomed. By contrast, perfectionism is a debilitating psychological disorder that can cause performance and health difficulties and lead to anxiety and depression.


Perfectionism becomes maladaptive when the accepted standard is unrealistic, yet anything less is considered a failure. Maladaptive perfectionists feel they must produce an entirely flawless outcome and are often so plagued by self-doubt and dissatisfaction they adopt an all or nothing approach, preferring to consciously avoid a task than make an imperfect attempt.

Maladaptive perfectionists often procrastinate or give up if they think they won’t be able to meet their standard of perfect, engaging in a damaging spiral of wasting excessive amounts of time and energy, ultimately creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.

Perfectionists are highly critical of themselves and are motivated by a fear of mistakes, failure and disapproval; they interpret errors and imperfections as evidence of their failure and unworthiness.

Maladaptive perfectionists tend to exaggerate the negative consequences of their mistakes, leading them to intentionally underachieve in order to guarantee success rather than taking risks with something new or challenging. They may miss deadlines because they have laboured over their work, obsessively rechecked it or started again.

In the workplace maladaptive perfectionists often have difficulty delegating tasks to others which in turn increases the stress of their workload and the likelihood of making the very mistakes they fear. They can impose their unrealistic expectations on their colleagues and become harsh and critical when others don’t meet their perfectionist standards. As a result, they can find themselves socially isolated at work. Maladaptive perfectionists don’t cope well with criticism or feedback.

Maladaptive perfectionism can lead to decreased performance and creativity, health issues brought on by excessive stress, difficult emotions associated with failure and rejection, problematic interpersonal relationships, anxiety and depression.

If you experience some of the above, you may like to consider the areas of your life that perfectionism affects and challenge your unhelpful beliefs to manage the anxiety or shame associated with failure.

When perfectionism and anxiety begin to impair your ability to function, decrease your quality of life, or cause you to consider self-harm, our psychologists can help you find the middle ground in your thinking, working with you to open up more time for positive life experiences that will help rebuild your self-worth. Our psychologists will assist you to identify and manage feelings associated with perfection and anxiety including stress, procrastination, impaired self-worth, risk-aversion, exhaustion and a lack of focus. We will help you pursue a healthy excellence and teach you to focus on what matters.

We believe it is possible to find a more balanced, ‘good enough’ standard that will lead you to satisfying relationships and achievements. Please call us on 07 3891 7723 to make an appointment with one of our experienced psychologists, including Toni Phillips who has a special interest in helping clients who suffer from perfectionism.


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