Perfectionism in its healthy form is motivating and energizing. The attention to detail and the desire to succeed lead to worthwhile achievements and accomplishment. It becomes unhealthy when no matter how high a level is achieved, a sense of satisfaction is not felt. It is characterised by setting unrelenting standards that result in self-criticism when these standards are not met.

Perfectionism usually develops early in life, as a result of linking self-esteem, love and approval to high achievement, or getting things right. Talented or gifted children, and children raised by parents with high expectations are prone to this personality style. Perfectionists often have obsessive-compulsive tendencies, which also have positive and negative aspects.

The benefits of being a high achiever are motivation, determination, and drive. For example, elite athletes have a Perfectionistic personality style. The negative aspect is that the individual is rarely made happy by their success. Only 100% brilliance, or being exceptional, are good enough to evoke happiness, and this is often a fleeting feeling before the next goal is set.

Fear of failure is the flip side of the desire to succeed. Fear of failure to meet the idealized high standards can lead to a disabling lack of motivation, anxiety, and depression — resulting in inaction and underachievement. The belief that there is no point in doing things unless they can be done well limits exposure to a range of experiences. The sense of hopelessness, or anxiety about not being able to achieve desired goals is what leads people to seek counselling.

Counselling can teach you to:

  • Pay attention to the inner voice that is constantly criticising and contributing to suffering.
  • Focus more on achievements and the positive feedback you receive from others, rather than the critical inner voice.
  • Set realistic goals, and to experience the satisfaction of success.
  • Accept that making mistakes is part of being human.

Therapy can provide a safe place for you to explore the longing for love and approval, which cannot be achieved by unrealistic striving for perfection or always being right.