Perfectionism is a very sneaky trait that a lot of people who have anxiety and depression struggle with (sometimes unknowingly). Perfectionism involves a lot of striving. It is a form of black-and-white or all-or-nothing thinking where if we haven’t met our perfectionistic standard, then we feel like we’ve failed. This failure is usually taken quite personally and tends to lead to bad mood and more negative thoughts (i.e., racing or ruminative thoughts).
David Burns shares several types of perfectionism that can lead to low mood:
1. Moralistic Perfectionism: “I must not forgive myself if I have fallen short of any goal or personal standard.”
2. Performance Perfectionism: “To be a worthwhile person, I must be a great success at everything I do.”
3. Identity Perfectionism: “People will never accept me as a flawed and vulnerable human being.”
4. Emotional Perfectionism: “I must always try to be happy. I must control my negative emotions and never feel anxious or depressed.”
5. Romantic Perfectionism: “I must find a perfect mate and always feel infatuated with him or her.”
6. Relationship Perfectionism: “People who love each other should never fight or feel angry with each other.”
7. Appearance Perfectionism: “I look ugly because I’m _____ (self-judgement here).
Taking a little deeper look under these beliefs can be helpful to see what the fear is that is driving them. Ask yourself what is the thing I am worried happening if I don’t achieve my perfectionist standards? Is it a fear of rejection? Of disapproval?
A helpful technique is to use is the IF/THEN technique….
IF this is true about me (worst fear), THEN it would mean __________ (this about me, my relationships, my future).
Now that you’ve identified the sneaky little fear driving your perfectionistic beliefs and tendencies, you will want to ask yourself the following:
1) Is this helping me to believe this? What are the consequences, both positive and negative of believing this?
2) Is it realistic to think this way? Does it work? Is it sustainable?
3) What would happen if I confronted my fear? Would the world really come to an end if I changed this attitude?
4) Could I start to look at this aspect in shades of grey rather than just black or white?
David Burns offers GREAT Cognitive-Behavioural techniques like this. If you are interested and want to read more, I recommend his book “The Feeling Good Handbook”