Understanding Perfectionism

by Aisha E. Al-Saqabi

“Perfect is the enemy of the good.” – Voltaire

In psychology, perfectionism is a personality trait characterized by a “person’s striving for flawlessness and setting high-performance standards, accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding other’s evaluation. [1] Often a characteristic that is admired socially, perfectionism can quickly result in more mental and emotional distress than the sense of accomplishment that it so desperately yearns for.

With perfectionism, “good enough” is simply not good enough. In most cases, all things must be done immaculately and within the time frame set by the individual. Failure to do so leads to a never-ending cycle of perfectionism→ procrastination → paralysis.

First of all, it starts off with setting and striving towards impossibly high goals. Then, the realization of possible failure or criticism prompts procrastination; the energy, excitement and drive begin to diminish. Lastly, not being able to live up to the standards set by oneself and not working towards the progression of what was set forth, eventually, it will come to a stop. The objective has been laid out but no further work can be done. [2]

Some researchers argue that perfectionism is not defined by working hard or setting high standards. It is that critical inner voice. [3] With each individual, the inner voice criticizes different things or aspects of their lives, e.g. work, school, relationships, organization, tidiness…etc. [3]

In my own personal experiences, my perfectionistic tendencies take a toll on my day to day activities. Especially regarding school, my avocation and even sometimes my social life. Even though the standards and objectives that I set for myself are realistic, they are extreme. Particularly due to the fact that I want to do them as quickly as possible. Although, doing them quickly does not necessarily mean that they are done well – which more often than not leads me to experience both mental and emotional distress.

My inclination is rooted in the deep fear of not being able to live up to my own standards. The prospect of failing to do something or forgetting to do something causes me to behave in the way that I do. Perplexed by the thought that my current circumstance is not a result of my social environment (family and friends) but most likely a result of the fact that I thrive off the feeling of accomplishment and fulfilment, no matter how trivial it might be.

As a consequence of that, my mind is constantly on alert. Thinking about the things that I have to do or start when I get home, calculating the time it should take me to complete the tasks and hoping that I will be able to do them successfully. Although the countless sticky notes, to-do lists and calendars placed on my desk allow me to organize and formulate my thoughts, they are a constant reminder that there is something for me to do and that it difficult for me by nature to live a little more carefree.

Despite that, realizing that my tendencies are more detrimental than helpful to my health and well-being, I will work a little harder in trying to be satisfied with good enough. As well as being able to differentiate between what really deserves attention and what can be focused on later.

So, words of wisdom to my improved future self: take one day at a time, focus on what really is important and do not fear failure.

[1] “Perfectionism (Psychology).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Sept. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perfectionism_(psychology).

[2] Hiatt, Gina. “The 3 P’s: Perfectionism, Procrastination, and . . . Paralysis.” Write Your Dissertation – Get Tenure – We Can Help.,


[3] Ruggeri, Amanda. “ The Dangerous Downsides of Perfectionism.” BBC, BBC, 21 Feb. 2018, www.bbc.com/future/story/20180219-toxic-perfectionism-is-on-the-rise.

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1 comment

Nichole | Wildly Alive November 22, 2018 - 3:25 pm

Wonderful post! Reading a blog that talks about understanding a perfectionist. Such a big boost to those who are perfectionist. Its really not easy to overcome such a trait. But it is possible with the help of some people who understands alot.


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