The pressure of perfectionism

Last month I wrote an article for Liz Earle Wellbeing magazine about the pressure of perfectionism. It explored how chasing impossible, unattainable standards can cause significant damage to our mental health. As I interviewed my case studies, I heard multiple accounts of how the drive towards perfectionism led them towards sleepless nights, panic attacks and migraines. And how one woman’s experience of feeling out of place in her new job impacted her so deeply, she became fixated with her physical appearance. She felt it was the only aspect of her life she could reliably, and consistently, control.

Although it can be unsettling to hear about the pressure people put themselves under in the pursuit of perfectionism, it’s also a fascinating and meaningful topic to investigate. And it was while researching this article, that I came across the work of Professor Thomas Curran. His book The Perfection Trap is currently riding high on the non-fiction charts. And I can see why. I could happily discuss his insights on the pressure of perfectionism for hours.

Before I began my research, I imagined perfectionism only impacted an unfortunate few. But after only a couple of hours, I discovered there aren’t many of us immune to its long, insidious reach. Speaking about who it specifically impacts, Professor Curran says:

“If you come from disadvantage, there will be an intense pressure to lift yourself out of those circumstances. And that’s really hard, especially these days, with social mobility in reverse. However, all people experience perfectionistic pressures, even those who come from relative advantage because the imperative for these people is not to fall down or regress. So really, pressures are all around us.”

Putting perfectionism back in its place

So how best to tackle perfectionism? Well, after looking at numerous studies and reams of research, Professor Curran suggests that self-compassion is an effective strategy.

Treating yourself with kindness, accepting that your human, fallible and being ready to forgive yourself is a great place to start.

Curran also recommends, when you feel you’ve failed or not come up to standard, talking to yourself in the same caring way you’d talk to a close friend. That is remaining kind, loving and supportive in your inner dialogue.

He expands, “Self-compassion is crucial to breaking the self-critical cycle of perfectionism. Cognitive reframing of irrational thoughts can also be useful. But it’s no panacea.

“But most of all, if perfectionism is impacting your life in negative ways it’s crucial to seek help from a trained mental health professional. Acknowledging perfectionism is the problem, and seeking help is the hardest but most crucial first step.”

If you want to find out more about the benefits on self-compassion, then here’s an earlier blog I created on the topic. And if you feel the time’s right for you to explore your own feelings around perfectionism or self esteem, then why not get in touch and book a free discovery call?

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