By: Stephanie Slater MA RCC CCC
Perfectionism is a personality trait characterized by the relentless pursuit of flawlessness and high standards. While perfectionism can drive individuals to achieve great success, it can also lead to feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and depression. Recent research has suggested that perfectionism can result from difficult life events such as trauma, abuse, and neglect. This blog post will explore the relationship between perfectionism and difficult life events and provide three tips for managing perfectionism.
One study published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology examined the relationship between childhood emotional abuse and perfectionism in adulthood (Hewitt et al., 2017). The study found that individuals who had experienced emotional abuse as children were more likely to exhibit maladaptive forms of perfectionism, such as concern over mistakes, doubts about actions, and personal standards that are too high. Another study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that individuals who had experienced trauma were more likely to exhibit perfectionistic tendencies (Stoeber et al., 2015). The study suggested that individuals who had experienced trauma may use perfectionism as a way to cope with feelings of helplessness and lack of control.
A third study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology examined the relationship between perfectionism and childhood neglect (Parr et al., 2016). The study found that individuals who had experienced neglect as children were more likely to exhibit perfectionistic tendencies as adults, including high personal standards, concern over mistakes, and doubts about actions. The study suggested that individuals who had experienced neglect may use perfectionism as a way to gain a sense of control and order in their lives.
While perfectionism can result from difficult life events, it is important to recognize that perfectionism can also be influenced by other factors such as culture, personality traits, and societal expectations. Regardless of the cause of perfectionism, there are strategies that individuals can use to manage their perfectionistic tendencies. Here are three tips for managing perfectionism:
- Set realistic goals: Perfectionists often set unrealistic goals for themselves, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy and failure. Instead, set goals that are realistic and achievable. Break larger goals into smaller, more manageable tasks and celebrate your accomplishments along the way.
- Challenge negative thoughts: Perfectionists often have a negative internal dialogue that reinforces their perfectionistic tendencies. Challenge these negative thoughts by asking yourself if they are rational and realistic. Consider the evidence for and against the negative thought and try to reframe it in a more positive light.
- Practice self-compassion: Perfectionists are often their own harshest critics. Practicing self-compassion can help individuals to be kinder and more forgiving toward themselves. Treat yourself as you would treat a friend who is struggling. Offer words of encouragement and support rather than criticism and judgment.
In conclusion, perfectionism can result from difficult life events such as trauma, abuse, and neglect. While perfectionism can be a useful tool for achieving success, it can also lead to feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. By setting realistic goals, challenging negative thoughts, and practicing self-compassion, individuals can learn to manage their perfectionistic tendencies and lead happier, healthier lives.
Hewitt, P. L., Flett, G. L., Sherry, S. B., Habke, M., Parkin, M., Lam, R. W., . . . Stein, M. B. (2017). The impact of childhood emotional abuse and experiential avoidance on maladaptive perfectionism and general anxiety disorder. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 64(3), 257-264.
Parr, M. A., Hewitt, P. L., Flett, G. L., & Mealing, B. A. (2016). Perfectionism and childhood neglect: An investigation of the mediating role of shame. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 72(9), 919-928.
Stoeber, J., Janssen, D. P., & Luhmann, M. (2015). Perfectionism and coping with daily failures: Positive reframing helps achieve satisfaction at the end of the day. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 110(2), 245-261.