Perfectionism: A Good or Bad Way of Thinking?

The SOVA Project is happy to feature this blog post written by one in our team of fantastic SOVA Ambassadors—these are young people who help create meaningful blog posts from adolescents’ perspectives.

I strive for perfection all the time, especially when it comes to academics. If I feel as if I scored less than an A on any assignment or exam then I have terrible anxiety accompanied with crying spells. During these times of distress, it’s nearly impossible to calm myself down. I shake and mentally exhaust myself so much that I cannot do anything else for the rest of the day. These intense distressful experiences last for hours.

The definition of perfectionism is a person’s constant effort to achieve unobtainable goals, and measuring their self-worth according to their accomplishments rather than their own values and essential worth as a person. Being a perfectionist can have positive aspects, such as being very detail-oriented and highly motivated. However, when perfectionists fail to meet their unrealistically high standards, they can become depressed.

The problem is, no one is perfect. Therefore, holding yourself to standards of perfection will always create unhappiness, because those standards are not attainable.

It may seem difficult to let go of perfectionistic ways. I know for me it is hard to stop obsessively worrying about exams that I have taken in which I’m worried that I did not get an A. Here are some ways to take your mind off your perfectionist ways:

  • Watch a movie
  • Color or draw
  • Talk a walk
  • Hang out with supportive friends
  • Meditate
  • Exercise

Engage in any pleasurable activity that does not relate to the activity you are trying to perfect. This will assist in easing the obsessive thoughts that come along with perfectionism.

A recent study showed that activities that foster self-compassion help perfectionistic people avoid falling into depression. So meditation, positive self-talk, and any other activity that supports compassion toward yourself can be especially helpful if you’re obsessing about the latest exam and your possibly imperfect grade.

How do you help your child get past their worry that a poor grade on their biology or chemistry exam will ruin their chances of success? How do you work with the voices in your own mind that tell you you’re a failure if you don’t lose that extra five pounds, create a perfect looking house, or get that promotion? 

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