The relationship between dysfunctional perfectionism and anxiety.
These are the ways in which dysfunctional perfectionism gives rise to anxiety problems.
Perfectionism as a tendency to want to achieve the best possible outcome need not be detrimental in itself; it may even bring many benefits to a number of people who exhibit in itself; it may even bring many benefits to various people who exhibit this trait (e.g., getting very good academic grades, excelling in a sport, etc.).
The problem arises when this self-imposed perfectionism causes the person to cross the fine line between what would consist of performing their tasks efficiently, with passion and care, and what obsession with achieving extremely lofty goals, even unattainable in some cases. in certain cases.
The latter characterizes the term known as dysfunctional perfectionism; to the detriment of the case of those who strive to achieve their tasks with energy, but without it causing exhaustion and frustration when they have not been able to obtain the expected result, in which case we would speak of a rather functional perfectionism. In this article we will see what is the relationship between excessive perfectionism and anxiety problems..
What is dysfunctional perfectionism?
Perfectionism has been considered a transdiagnostic process. This means that it is a characteristic feature in a variety of mental pathologiessuch as various anxiety-related disorders (e.g., anxiety-related disorders). e.g., obsessive-compulsive disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
There is currently no established diagnosis for dysfunctional perfectionism in any of the diagnostic and statistical manuals (DSM and ICD). However, this personality trait is widely recognized by mental health professionals due to the physical and mental discomfort it generates in people who present it.
Dysfunctional perfectionism is characterized by the drive to continually achieve to continuously obtain successful results in everything the person sets out to do and without committing any failure, since, if they do, they will not be able to achieve it.If they make a mistake, even if they have achieved a positive result, they would feel that they have failed, and this would generate a lot of anxiety.
Therefore, it is very characteristic that these people have dichotomous "all or nothing" thoughts, which consist in the fact that if they achieve the desired results, they feel invincible; on the other hand, if things do not go as expected, they think they have done everything wrong.
These people are often very competitiveThey focus only on their goals and withdraw somewhat from their social environment, and also have a low tolerance for uncertainty, which in the long run generates many symptoms of anxiety and stress.
The physical and mental consequences of people with dysfunctional perfectionism are the following.
1. Burnout syndrome
Also known as "burnout syndrome", it is characterized by an extreme physical and mental decline and a feeling of dissatisfaction with the work being performedThis is characterized by a feeling of being distanced from one's coworkers, as well as a sense of depersonalization.
Wanting to obtain excellent results entails having to dedicate too much effort, which in the long run can lead to chronic stress that triggers this syndrome.
It is frequent that they develop depressive episodes due to the fact that they demand to themselves very high standards in all the facets of their life and, as it is normal, there are stages in which the things will not go out as they expected, and for it they will feel like failures, with little hope of improvement..
A very common characteristic in these disorders is perfectionism taken to the extreme. It is more common than usual for them to weigh themselves and look in the mirror several times a day, to closely monitor the food they eat, and to be very demanding in other areas of their lives, such as academics or work.It is more common than usual for them to weigh themselves and look at themselves in the mirror several times a day, to carefully control the food they eat and to be very demanding in other areas of their lives, such as academics or work.
The low tolerance to uncertainty and the imperious need to do things to perfection generates in these people a very high anxiety.
This disorder is extremely common in people with dysfunctional perfectionism and, therefore, we will dedicate a specific section below to explain it in more detail.
Anxiety in people with dysfunctional perfectionism
Anxiety in highly perfectionistic people is triggered by several reasons. Some of them are those caused by internal instigators, which consist of ruminative thoughts that generate high pressure on the individual, such as "I must be the best at everything", "everything must be perfect", and this eagerness to become so causes symptoms of anxiety (e.g., restlessness, alarm, nervousness), all of which can interfere negatively in their daily life.
Fear of failure, another very common characteristicmay be caused by low self-esteem and, in turn, generates high levels of anxiety. This leads to failure avoidance behaviors such as spending excessive time and effort in performing their tasks and even avoiding performing them at times when they consider that they will not achieve the expected level of success, leading the individual to procrastinate until they consider that they are ready.
High intolerance to uncertainty also generates great anxiety for these people.. When they have to wait a reasonably long time to obtain the results of their effort, it is characteristic that they suffer tension, physiological activation, negative anticipatory thoughts in relation to an outcome of that which they wish to see satisfactorily resolved. Intolerance to uncertainty has also been related to excessive worry and rumination.
A high degree of neuroticism is a personality trait characterized by a tendency to experience intense anxiety and negative emotions in response to stressful situations. There are studies that have demonstrated the relationship between neuroticism, the social-familial environment, the style of upbringing received and the degree of perfectionism of the parents with the subsequent development of a maladaptive perfectionism among the personality traits of the person.
Prevention of dysfunctional perfectionism and its psychological problems.
It is not an easy task for those who always give the maximum of their capabilities in everything they do in their daily lives to lower the piston to try to work efficiently without leading to physical and mental saturation. However, it would be advisable to try to gradually reduce the workload and even postpone certain tasks that are not pressing.
According to Altstötter-Gleich, they could start with a familiar task as a mediocrity exercise in which people should make less effort in carrying out a task, and then observe what happens, under the supervision of a professional, which can be of great help. to make them understand that there is nothing serious wrong with not always giving one hundred percent in everything they do..
It could be very useful for them to allow themselves moments of total disconnection in which they can only focus on enjoying the here and now, in the process of performing a certain pleasurable activity, or even doing nothing at all.
It would also be important to work to change the maladaptive thoughts and behaviors that maintain this dysfunctional that maintain this dysfunctional perfectionism. It would be wise to start by addressing their dichotomous all-or-nothing thoughts about success and failure in everything they do.
There is currently no psychological treatment specifically designed for people with a high level of perfectionism. However, given that this trait has been recognized as a transdiagnostic psychological characteristic and, more specifically, very common in anxiety disorders, we could apply the Unified Protocol for the Transdiagnostic Treatment of Emotional Disorders designed by Barlow..
The treatment modules are as follows:
- Module 1: it is necessary to focus on establishing objectives to be achieved little by little and at the same time it is important to keep motivated to do so.
- Module 2: you must understand that emotions are not bad or good, but that they all have a function and therefore are equally important.
- Module 3: develop a full emotional awareness to understand the relevance they have in helping to learn from their own experiences. Focus on the present moment without judgment.
- Module 4: know the influence that thoughts have on the emotions you experience.
- Module 5: understanding the behaviors you perform to avoid feeling unpleasant emotions.
- Module 6: understanding how you try to perform certain behaviors in order to avoid failure.
- Module 7: developing a tolerance for certain physical, emotional and situational sensations that you previously tried to avoid.
- Module 8: to recognize the achievements obtained throughout the process, learning from them, so that they can be useful for future situations and thus be able to prevent relapses.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)