What is it?
In adolescence, as the pressure to perform academically increases, many teens begin to believe that the better they perform in school, the more successful they will be in life. Likewise, many adolescents believe that failure or not doing well at school would limit their future opportunities and possibly mark the end of the bright futures they were promised growing up.
In some respects, striving for high standards and working hard towards goals and achieving a sense of fulfilment is adaptive and perfectly reasonable. Unfortunately, when we place pressure on ourselves to meet exceedingly high standards which then powerfully influences the way we see ourselves, this can interfere with social, emotional, and academic/occupational functioning and become a problem. Often this high pressure to succeed backfires and leads to a persistent sense of failure.
Perfectionism is not so much about being “perfect” as it is about the relentless striving for excessively high standards that are personally demanding. Often consequently, people find themselves judging their self worth based on their ability to strive for and achieve these high standards.
Long term consequences of unhelpful perfectionism can include: social isolation, worry, depression, eating disorders, insomnia, procrastination, relationship difficulties, obsessive compulsive symptoms, and poor health.
- Being overly cautious in tasks, leading your child to spend excessive amounts of time completing tasks (e.g., taking 3 hours to complete homework that should take 30 minutes)
- Refusing to attempt new tasks and risk making mistakes
- Frequently attempting to improve work by rewriting or retyping
- Spending excessive amounts of time proofing written work
- Excessive fear of embarrassment
- Chronic procrastination and difficulties completing tasks
- Tendency to become highly anxious, angry, or upset about making a mistake
- Frequent catastrophic reactions when things do not go as planned (e.g., meltdown)
- Working on multiple drafts of assignments
- Experiencing difficulties making decisions
- Excessively seeking reassurance
- Excessive organisation and list making
- Difficulties recognising when to stop
- Difficulties delegating tasks
- Taking criticism personally
Treatment for Perfectionism
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has consistently been shown by research to be the treatment of choice for perfectionism. The focus of CBT for perfectionism is to help adolescents identify unhelpful patterns of thoughts and behaviours that maintain their perfectionistic tendencies, and understand why it is a problem. A trained psychologist then works with your adolescent to develop more adaptive thoughts and behaviours, including modifying personal standards and challenging their inner critic. Together with their psychologist, your adolescent will also undertake a variety of experiments to learn about the nature of their perfectionistic standards and how to develop alternative ways of living.
Author: Dr Daphne Bryant