How to Switch Perfectionism from Bad to Good?

There is a way of making perfectionism work for—not against—us.

Negative consequences of perfectionism

Some experts would argue that perfectionism (striving unrelentingly for high standards of performance and combining that with extremely critical self-analysis) is linked to many areas of distress and emotional hardships, such as depression, borderline personality disorder, anxiety disorders, suicidal tendencies, and eating disorders.

Furthermore, perfectionism is known to interfere with functional leadership. A manager who possesses perfectionistic qualities might be excessively controlling and unable to realise that their awkward behaviour is due to deficiencies in self-awareness and interpersonal compassion. Research demonstrates that bosses who manifest high levels of perfectionism do not become good leaders.

However, it is possible to make perfectionism work for—not against—you.

Helpful and unhelpful kinds of perfectionism

Researchers differentiate between helpful and unhelpful perfectionism, according to the extent of rigidity that affects individual standards.

The presence of adequate flexibility to allow for human imperfections, while striving for the highest standards, would make perfectionism adaptive.

Dysfunctional perfectionism, on the contrary, is characterised by uncompromising, overly high standards, unforgiving of any flaws.

How to turn a bad kind of perfectionism into a good one

If you strive for perfection based on fundamental beliefs about the self as proficient and worthy, there is a good chance that your perfectionism will lead to constructive outcomes.

Conversely, unhelpful perfectionism is based on a preoccupation with the avoidance of shortcomings, due to perceptions of the self as incompetent or worthless.

So, to make perfectionism work for you and prevent it from becoming a barrier to goal achievement and wellbeing, think about transforming your beliefs from being rigid and founded on a sense of personal insufficiency, into flexible beliefs, based on a sense of self-worth. Research suggests it is worth a try.