Is perfectionism a disease

Perfectionism: When a virtue turns into a disorder

Always wanting to do everything well and right seems like a good quality at first. Above all, employers value perfectionists. But sometimes they get in each other's way. How you can curb the eternal urge for top performance yourself.

Those who always want to get the best out of themselves can achieve success and recognition - or end up on the couch of a therapist with burnout. But what actually distinguishes a healthy portion of willingness to perform from pathological perfectionism? And how do you keep your own urge to do everything optimally in check?

Performance is expected and rewarded

Basically, there is a perfectionist in every person. "We learn early on at home and at school that we are expected to perform," says Meltem Avci-Werning, Chair of the School Psychology Section at the Association of German Psychologists. And also that this performance is assessed - through grades or praise from parents. Wanting to do something particularly well can be a response to these expectations. That's not bad at first, because of course society needs people who perform well.

Perfectionism in professional life

"In day-to-day work you can rely on the results of perfectionists," says career advisor Gaby Regulator from Munich. They always do a good job, especially when special care is required. "Nobody wanted to get on an airplane that was not built with the greatest perfection," says Avci-Werning. Perfectionism is definitely a valuable virtue here.

But if you pay attention to every detail on the job and do not tolerate any negligence, you quickly get into trouble with colleagues. And that's not entirely wrong, writes career advisor Christina Kock in the magazine "Emotion" (issue 3/2018). Because discussing every little thing can significantly slow down processes at work - and thus worsen them. In the event of an impending conflict, perfectionists should therefore first check whether their obsession with details really helps.

When perfectionism becomes problematic

The pursuit of perfection can become a burden and not only stand in the way of self-realization, but also interpersonal relationships. Psychologists differentiate between two variants of perfectionists. As long as someone wants to achieve the best, but admits mistakes to himself and others and can endure them, perfectionism is not a problem.

"However, if someone has extremely high standards in various areas of life and sticks to them rigidly because their own self-worth depends on them, then this can become a problem," explains Nils Spitzer, psychological psychotherapist and book author. It is particularly problematic when someone has the feeling that they are only loved and accepted by others if they perform at their best.

Such people are more likely to look to failure than to success and suffer when they fail to meet their high standards. This can lead to fears of exam situations. Procrastination behavior is also typical for these people. For them, there's always a reason why something isn't good enough to finish it off, says Spitzer.

Perfectionists are at risk of burnout and depression

"In everyday working life, perfectionists often need more time than their colleagues," explains career advisor Gaby Regulator. They are often less able to delegate because they prefer to do everything themselves. The feeling of never getting finished also weighs on them. In the long term, there is a risk of burnout or depression, and sometimes eating disorders as well, as the high demands lead to chronic stress. "According to a study, the increased stress level of perfectionists could even lead to a lower life expectancy in the long term," warns Spitzer. In addition, it not only burdens those affected, but also their families or partners.

Clarify the causes of perfectionism

What helps is to look closely and critically question your own behavior. Avci-Werning recommends first asking the question about your own motive: Do I want to have a career and therefore always be top class? Or do I feel like I have to be perfect for others to like me? The latter could be an indication of low self-esteem. In this case, it may be useful to work on it with a therapist.

But therapy is not always necessary straight away. "Sometimes it helps to consider how important something will still be in a year's time in order to assess whether your own perfectionism is appropriate or not." Spitzer also warns against taking an example from perfectionist people or comparing oneself with them.

Pareto principle or the 80-20 rule

Those affected should also pay attention to the so-called Pareto effect, recommends regulators. According to this, the last 20 percent of a project takes up 80 percent of the total time. "So you should consider whether this is really worthwhile in the special situation," says Regulator. For tasks that are less relevant or for which you are not personally passionate, it is sometimes enough to only complete them to 80 percent.

Exercise or meditation for recreation

Active recreation can also provide relief. However, doing nothing is a difficult task for perfectionists. Forcing yourself to recover will make you feel guilty for allegedly wasting time. "It helps to think about it: What can I do actively and relax at the same time?" Some do it with sport, others by meeting friends, others relax with meditation. With a few tricks you can guide your own perfectionism in the right direction so that it doesn't become a burden at some point.

Important NOTE: The information is in no way a substitute for professional advice or treatment by trained and recognized doctors. The contents of t-online cannot and must not be used to independently make diagnoses or start treatments.

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