Is Perfectionism Good or Bad For Us?

Many of us learn from a young age that approval from others only comes when you achieve a certain standard, and there are negative consequences when you make mistakes. At school for example, children are praised when they get full marks and provided with negative feedback when they fail. It is natural for human beings to want to be praised, seek approval and avoid criticism. The dilemma with this however is that we can internalize these expectations and lead a life where nothing ever feels quite good enough. You may be thinking that high expectations help you to achieve goals, to stay motivated and perform well. Perfectionism is different from just high standards, however, in that the standards are unrelenting, impossible to achieve and can lead to mental health problems.

Constant pressure to achieve “perfection” and failure to achieve this leads to low self-esteem, self-blaming, anxiety, stress, depression and eating disorders. If you also hold perfectionistic expectations for others, you may be at risk of feeling disappointed, frustrated and experiencing relationship difficulties.

If you find that you fear failure, disapproval from others, and that you have high expectations for yourself (e.g. I should be able to do more than this, or I must go to the gym every day), then it may be helpful to keep reading this article….


How can you manage your perfectionism?


  • Use feelings of stress, depression and anxiety as indicators that you may be expecting too much of yourself – ask yourself ‘what am I expecting of myself and of others in this situation? Is this fair and realistic’? It can also be helpful to discuss your expectations with someone else, just to do a bit of a “reality check”.

  • Challenge the fears that drive your high standards – ask yourself ‘if I don’t do this well, what does it say about me?’ and ‘if I don’t achieve this, is it really that bad?’

  • Remember you are human being and part of the human experience is making mistakes and learning from them – see failures as an opportunity to learn and grow.

  • Set realistic, achievable goals – if you are finding a task overwhelming and impossible to start, chances are you are expecting too much of yourself. No task is too complex when it is broken down into small, manageable steps.

  • Experiment with your own standards by doing something that feels like it is just “good enough” and notice what happens. Are there any gains or consequences of doing it this way?

  • Try and focus on the process of doing an activity rather than the end result. Maybe you can enjoy the time you spend doing something instead of thinking about what the goal is.

  • Most importantly, show kindness and compassion towards yourself and others. We are all perfectly imperfect, working it out as we go along.

Psychologists help many people who have perfectionistic traits and attitudes. If you have any questions, would like to find out more about perfectionism or talk about how it is affecting your personal or professional life, please get in touch. I will be more than happy to help you!


Laura Nash, Clinical Psychologist, Brisbane City Psychologists