Some years ago Jessica Lahey wrote in the New York Times: “We all know perfection is an unreasonable burden to place on our children but we also reward them when they strive for that perfection.” Her article was an attempt to understand the complex nature of perfectionism in today’s world where achievement is valued at almost any price.

What healthy striving for excellence looks like:

People with a healthy striving for excellence have very high standards but the standards are potentially achievable; when they do not reach their goals, people with healthy striving for excellence are able to stand back and reflect objectively on their mistakes so that they can learn from them. They are able to tolerate uncertainty and don’t react to their failure with intense self-criticism.

What unhealthy perfectionism looks like:

People with unhealthy perfectionism often have the same very high standards but the standards are not realistic or only attainable with significant negative consequences; such people react to mistakes in an extreme and highly self-critical manner and are very uncomfortable with uncertainty.

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • How hard are you pushing yourself to meet your goals?
  • Do you tend to focus on what you have not achieved rather than what you have achieved?
  • Do other people tell you that your standards are too high?
  • Do you feel a failure as a person because you have not succeeded in meeting your goals?
  • Are you afraid that you might not reach your standards?
  • Do you raise your standards after meeting them?
  • Do you judge yourself on your ability to meet your standards?
  • Do you repeatedly check how well you are doing at meeting your standards (for example, by comparing yourself to others?)
  • Do you keep on trying to meet your standards even if you miss out on other things?
  • Do you react to small mistakes with intense selfcriticism?
  • Do you avoid tests of your performance in case you fail?
  • Do you tend to focus on what you have not achieved rather than what you have achieved?
  • Do other people tell you that your standards are too high?
  • Do you feel a failure as a person because you have not succeeded in meeting your goals?
  • Are you afraid that you might not reach your standards?
  • Do you raise your standards after meeting them?
  • Do you judge yourself on your ability to meet your standards?
  • Do you repeatedly check how well you are doing at meeting your standards (for example, by comparing yourself to others?)
  • Do you keep on trying to meet your standards even if you miss out on other things?
  • Do you react to small mistakes with intense self-criticism?
  • Do you avoid tests of your performance in case you fail?

The full article can be found here – courtesy of the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust