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Perfectionism is a Disease

Perfectionism is a culturally accepted and even desired ideal. We want our children to be perfectly adjusted. We wish our bodies were perfectly shaped. We want to find the ideal soul mate. We expect our athletes in the Olympics to perform perfectly. We want our minds to be absolutely still – at least when we so chose.

There is very little room for failure in our goal-driven society.

And while there is nothing wrong with trying to give the best we can, wanting to be perfect is an endeavor bound to fail.

In fact, it lies at the heart of much of the anxiety and depression we encounter every day.

16 Comments to
Perfectionism is a Disease

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  1. i agree with everything except for one thing: imho, perfectionism is not a disease, but a disorder, one of many classified under OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders)

  2. My understanding is that there is normal and neurotic perfectionism (reference attached). But I agree that if we utilize positive discipline in our home, we embrace mistakes as opportunities to learn and foster growth mindsets rather than fixed mindsets through the use of encouragement rather than praise, mutual respect and foster autonomy, we support healthy developing children (who grow into adults).

    Hamachek, D. E. (1978). Psychodynamics of normal and neurotic perfectionism.
    Psychology: A Journal of Human Behaviour, 15, 27-33.


    • Very true, the same goes for adults as well

    • I agree that encouragement is extremely important, but I do not agree that one should eliminate praise when an achievement is made. If the praise isn’t excessively given when given, then it will have value. Perfectionism, as is most related disorders, is tied up and closely interwoven with one’s self esteem, usually with the perception that one does not measure up to either their own or an external standard. Therefore, encouragement will assist one’s ability to have a more balanced perspective (and subsequently more balanced actions), and when breakthroughs are made, praise will both confirm, validate and celebrate those breakthroughs. In my own experience, both personal and as clergy counseling others, I find that perfectionism stems from either or both of these: having had a parent that’s a perfectionist (therefore nothing you do is ever good enough), or never having had any real encouragement nor any sincere praise as a child. So your point of teaching parents to look at mistakes as opportunities for growth rather than as failures and teaching their children that in turn would go a long way towards raising a generation that might be free of not only perfectionism but other negative self-esteem triggered neuroses. But as with anything else, it’s getting that message out there, since parenting courses are, for the most part, either voluntary or only taken when a problem arises and the government agencies have to step in. One can lead another to water, but you can’t make them drink it, unless and until losing their kids is at stake, and even then…

      • True as well. It always depends on the individual case and to strike the right balance. It sounds like we all agree on that

      • Ms. Shoen, the book looks fabulous. I read a bit of the preview (about the legacy of narcissism) and am going to get a copy. Two pages of wonderful writing that has me hooked, thank you. I look forward to learning more and I believe that we are on the same page when it comes to legacies. The book seems to focus on adults and my focus is on children (Adlerian and Positive Discipline), thus perhaps looking at the elephant from different points of view? Looking forward to a great read and expanding.

        Thank you again for the wonderful book.


        Catherine Gruener, M.A. M.A.

      • Thank you very much Catherine for your kind comment, I like your perspective of looking at “the elephant from two points of view”. Your blog is very insightful, your most recent comment on “Awkward Social Situations” is great to learn about how children learn to interact with others. It sounds like valuable additional input how “the gentle self” can learn how to be in the world (even as an adult)

  3. Great article. I work in mental health and have for some time strongly believed that perfectionist thinking is the bosom buddy of depression. I wonder, could I borrow from this article for my blog (giving full credit and linking it to your page, of course?)

    • Sure no problem. Glad it resonates with another professional as well

      • Thanks for that! my blog can be accessed through my mainpage if you wanna have a look! Thanks!

      • Sounds like a very useful site for everybody to find support and get input. Congratulations on the new endeavor!

  4. Thanks for bringing light to this oh so common problem! I always cringe when people say, “I’m a perfectionist” like it’s a good thing. The thing about your post that touched me the most was the affect perfectionism can have on a marriage. About six months into my marriage, I finally realized “wow—he’s not perfect, and I still love him” and neither am I—but he’s still here. Releasing that pressure has allowed us to have fun with each other again—to loosen up and not be afraid to show our true selves.
    The quote “I’m not ok. You’re not ok. But that’s ok” is so fitting for your post!

    • lol
      I like that last phrase of yours. I wish we could all take it and smile about it

  5. Perfectionism is indeed a big problem for many who suffer from OCD, though it doesn’t always present itself as you would imagine. For example, someone with perfectionism may not even be able to finish a project because they are so afraid it won’t be perfect. Avoidance in this manner causes “failure” which of course is devastating for a perfectionist! Exposure Response Prevention Therapy can help those who suffer from this type of OCD.

  6. Perfection has no meaning for most situations and therefore anyone seeking to be perfect must fail.

    Take, for example, runners. To win the gold medal in the 100 m – the Olympics and all that – you ‘merely’ have to run faster than anyone else in the race. There is no perfect model, which aspiring medallists can set themselves to guarantee victory.

    • Halas, there are no guaranties in life…

  7. As I read this I remembered someone once telling me that to become perfect is the end of a journey. If we relate journey to living a perfect life then it would also mean that once we obtain perfection life is over, there is nothing left to strive for. Similar to a flower that grows and one day reaches that point of perfection. From that day on the flower than begins to die. Perfectionism for me has never been important, satisfaction is much more important in my opinion. I;m not ready to stop living, striving or enjoying. Maybe not a clear enough thought but, I thought some might understand my thinking 🙂


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