The Perfectionist Ideal The Perfectionist Ideal

Tendency to orderliness and detail, as well as preventing errors are characteristics of this personality trait common in western culture.

Advisors Mariantonia Lemos – Psychologist, Masters and Doctor in Psychology
Nora Londoño – Psychologist, Masters and Doctor in Psychology and Specialist in Clinical Psychology

Understanding that nobody is perfect and that mistakes are an opportunity for learning are key recommendations for those who tend toward perfectionism. “Human beings are fallible and error has value in people’s lives,” Psychologist and Professor at Eafit University Mariantonia Lemos says precisely.

Even though frustration and mistakes are part of reality, the assumption is that there are situations one cannot control; individuals with this personality trait try to carry out their tasks, actions and projects in an ideal way, according to what they consider perfect.

Perhaps you identify with this tendency if you see yourself as a demanding, meticulous person that worries about keeping things in order even though they do not depend on you and if you focus on carrying out your activities in the best way possible and loathe negative emotions.

A Perfectionist Culture

Western culture  promotes perfectionism, mainly due to the economic factor. “We are oriented towards achievement and have a predominant preference for appearance, so that personal valuation is associated to what is aesthetically orderly and beautiful,” adds Psychologist Nora Londoño.

   The Specialist explains that the origins of perfectionism have biological, hereditary and social components, as does any personality trait. “It obeys, to a great extent, to the guidelines of one’s upbringing, to the way parents act and to the extent to which they posed demands on that person. Parents are usually models of this pattern and so are the structures at school,” indicates the Specialist.

In the same way, the need to control it all also arises from upbringing, from the satisfaction that the person felt when he managed to dominate situations. “If this aspect involving control is valued by the family or social ambiance, human beings take on that strategy to obtain recognition and affection,” states Psychologist Nora Londoño.

When perfection becomes an obsession, it produces anxiety and can even give origin to depression, because feelings of dissatisfaction, disillusion and sadness predominate. When there are high levels of anxiety, there also come with it physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, backaches, abundant sweating and even tachycardia. Even though it is not a disorder in itself but differs from the obsessive-compulsive disorder, perfectionism can be a risk factor for a psychological disorder in addition to other characteristics. Anorexia nervosa, to name just one, may be included among its manifestations.

The Positive Side

Even if exaggerating this perfectionist attitude has negative results, this trait can also be oriented from a more positive perspective. Psychologist Mariantonia Lemos mentions the fact that our society evaluates individuals in their academic and work environments, for example. Thus, procuring optimal performance promotes good results. Likewise, the qualities of this trait, such as being attentive to detail, being a good observer and a systematic one, among others, are necessary for the roles and posts taken on at work such as quality auditors, editors and high-ranking directors.

From the point of view of the Specialists we consulted, this tendency can contribute to reinforcing an adaptive and protective issue such as prevention of error and other risk factors. In the same manner, giving the best of oneself and doing things in the best way possible is also a way of challenging oneself, of growing on a personal level and of taking advantage of this expression of one’s personality.

Wanting to act in the best way possible is different from thinking that everything can be done perfectly. Psychologist Lemos underlines the fact that when perfection is the ideal, people require a lot of time and overly demand themselves in simple tasks that do not require it. On the other hand, it is an unproductive trait when what should predominate ideally are spontaneity, interaction and creativity because perfectionists are looking for control.

How to Overcome a Bad Day?

This can be challenging for a perfectionist, because a bad day means they have either failed in any given task, have been negatively evaluated or have not been able to carry out any ritual or action that guaranteed their keeping control. Before blaming oneself or doubting one’s own talent we recommend that the person breathe and take a break.  Psychologist Nora Londoño advises to “see the possibilities of growth through such inconvenient.” It is important, the Specialist clarifies, to be aware of not falling to extremes with this standing or assume that life will be ideal. It is about understanding that, in any event, there are aspects that turn out well and others that turn out badly. That is why it is fundamental to have options of relaxing and entertainment such as engaging in fun activities or sports, watching a movie or concentrating on reading.

Keep reading: When Perfection Becomes a Disorder