The Perfectionism and Anxiety Link

The Perfectionism and Anxiety Link

Perfectionism creates anxiety. 

Not all people who have anxiety are perfectionists, but many people who are perfectionists have anxiety. Perfectionism is a tough taskmaster. The drive to be perfect and have everything around you be perfect is a ball and chain that holds you back and bogs you down. 

The truth is, you can’t be perfect. Other people can’t be perfect. Things can’t go perfectly. Perfectionists are chronically frustrated, disappointed, overwhelmed, and anxious.

“When your personal rule (spoken or unspoken) is that everything you need to do needs to be perfect, failure is inevitable.”

—Curt Rosengren, U.S. News & World Report: Money

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Shift your goal from perfection to excellence

Excellence is a worthy goal. Perfection is not.

Excellence is achieving to the best of your ability under the circumstances. Excellence allows for balancing of priorities and acknowledgement of the various aspects of each unique situation.

Here’s a look at the excellence continuum:

excellence and perfection

Many people tend to think dichotomously—that is, to see only two options for things. ("Di" means two.) Dichotomous thinkers might think that if they don’t want to be one thing, then they have to be its opposite. If someone only sees the ends of the excellence continuum, they think that being anything less than perfect means they are an abject failure.

In reality, both ends of the continuum are unhealthy. Healthy lies somewhere in the middle -- in the green zone. If you have anxiety and you recognize that you are perfectionistic, you may benefit from examining why you have that drive and consider adjusting your goals to put you in the green zone.

There are other labels that could be used for the ends of the continuum.

The perfection end of the continuum could have many labels:

  • unflawed
  • spotless
  • pure
  • untarnished
  • undefiled
  • faultless
  • blameless
  • undamaged
  • unfaultable
  • irreproachable

 The abject failure end of the continuum could also have many labels:

  • lazy
  • useless
  • worthless
  • defective
  • pathetic
  • slovenly
  • damaged
  • loser

If a person feels “not good enough,” dichotomous thinking can drive them to perfection in attempts to quiet that fatally flawed feeling. Everything short of perfection can pick at that wound and be intolerably painful.

How to overcome perfectionism anxiety

1. Start to catch yourself at dichotomous thinking.

Notice when you see only two options for things and ask yourself if there is something in-between those two options. (Try to see the continuum of possibilities.)

2. Try to get into the excellence green zone.

Notice that the green zone is big. It isn't a tiny pivot point. Sometimes the ideal excellence goal for a situation will be on one end of the green zone, sometimes at the other. It moves around according to situations and circumstances.

3. Repair what drives your perfectionism.

Work on discovering what might be driving you to perfection and/or making you feel like an abject failure. Expose and heal related old wounds and question unhealthy core believes or audiotapes that run in your mind. 

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    • Ann Silvers
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