If you’ve realised you’re a perfectionist or started noticing some hidden signs you might be, perhaps you’re wondering why. Where does perfectionism come from? And is there anything you can do about it?
It’s unlikely there’s one single, isolated reason for your perfectionism. It’s usually down to a mixture of causes. Childhood experiences, the culture we grow up in, messages from the media and individual traits all play a part.
Our genetics influence the development of individual personality traits, but what we believe about ‘being perfect’ and how we behave is also shaped by our lived experience. There are a few ways this can happen:
Ultimately, depending on our childhood and early experiences, perfectionism can be a way to get noticed or feel more in control, safe and secure. It can develop to compensate for feeling inadequate or not good enough, or it can develop as a way to gain acceptance and love.
As you can see, many causes of perfectionism are rooted in childhood. But why isn’t it something we grow out of? The trouble is, before it starts causing problems, perfectionism tends to feel pretty good. Here’s why:
While there seems to be plenty of benefits to being a perfectionist, as a CBT Therapist, I know this isn’t really the case. Having supported clients and worked on my own perfectionism, I’ve come to realise the cons usually outweigh the pros. Left unchecked, it can have a negative impact on your life. It’s also a common factor in a number of mental health problems including obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
The key idea behind cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is that what you think (cognitive) and what you do (behavioural) affects the way you feel. Sometimes we can find ourselves stuck in vicious cycles where our thoughts and the things we’re doing to solve a problem inadvertently keep it going. This means we continue to experience the negative feelings associated with the problem. In many cases, it can also make it difficult to move forward with our lives.
While this explains why it can be so hard to shrug off perfectionism, it also means it’s something you can work on. Through CBT, you can learn how to change these negative patterns and improve the way you feel. You don’t need to know or understand where your perfectionism comes from to do this, although people often find it useful. It may be easier to make sense of any underlying causes in therapy.
If you’re looking for help and advice, 5 Ways to Beat Perfectionism is a good place to start. I also share support, information and ideas for recovering perfectionists on my Instagram page, the.perfectionism.therapist, and via my fortnightly newsletter, Perfectly Imperfect. Finally, if you’re looking for a CBT therapist, please get in touch.