The Relationship Between Anxiety & Perfectionism
Being a perfectionist is often thought to be a good thing. It is simply someone wanting to perform well isn’t it? In reality, a growing body of evidence suggests that although the personality trait termed ‘perfectionism’ can serve as a motivator it is also both a cause and symptom of anxiety and panic disorders.
The Difference Between Perfectionism & Ambition
There is nothing wrong with having goals and aiming high - this is referred to as ambition. Perfectionism takes a departure from ambition as it becomes maladaptive and produces anxiety. Perfectionists typically have unrealistically high expectations of themselves that exceed their time, energy or capabilities. They often feel that they can never be good enough, are hard on themselves especially when they make mistakes, and feel that they will not truly be accepted by others unless they are perfect.
Perfectionism & Anxiety
The relationship between perfectionism and anxiety is complex. Perfectionists place a high value on order and control and they may strive for optimal outcomes even at the price of their own wellbeing. The main source of emotional distress for perfectionists is the anxiety that often accompanies it. The pursuit of perfection can arise as a way of coping with the stress of anxiety and then creates high standards that induce more anxiety.
Many perfectionists are high achievers. However, more often than not procrastination, frustration, exhaustion and a lack of focus create difficulty when completing tasks even though this is the opposite of what perfectionists intend. Avoidance is a common reaction to feelings of anxiety - so despite the perfectionist’s desire to perform they may find themselves avoiding taking the steps necessary to attain their desired outcomes. The result is feelings of hopelessness and failure when they are not able to meet their own high standards.
High achievement is highly valued in our culture. The term perfectionism is usually associated with striving for perfect outcomes and that’s seen as a positive. However, the anxiety produced by perfectionistic behavior can actually hinder such achievements. Even in cases where perfectionists do achieve their desired outcomes, it may come with a price - excessive amounts of anxiety and other anxiety related problems. This turmoil is often hidden from others. Perfectionists work hard to maintain an image of accomplishment and holding it all together.
One of the most challenging things for a perfectionist is admitting that they have a problem. The relationship between their anxiety and their perfectionistic behaviours may not even be apparent to them - and when it is - admitting that they need help is often seen as a sign of weakness when it is in fact a sign of strength.
If you find that perfectionism and anxiety are impairing your quality of life, there are many proven strategies we use that can help you. Anxiety is a treatable condition and with the right tools, a perfectionist suffering from anxiety can move towards a healthier, happier life.