Thursday, August 9, 2007

perfectionasty as i wanna be

Perfectionism is a psychological orientation which, depending on the severity, may have biological and/or environmental causes. To an educated observer, a perfectionist orientation is usually evident by the preschool years, though it may not cause problems until the college years. The perfectionist orientation has two components: impossibly high standards, and the behaviors intended to help achieve the standards and avoid mistakes. The high standards interfere with performance, and perfectionist behavior becomes an obstacle instead of a means to achieving the goal. For example, when a five-year-old who is learning to write repeatedly erases his lines because they are not exactly straight, he is exhibiting a perfectionistic tendency.

Due to obsessive effort and high standards of performance combined with natural gifts, perfectionists may be athletic, musical, academic, or social achievers, but they may equally as often be underachievers. Perfectionists engage in dichotomous thinking, believing that there is only one right outcome and one way to achieve that outcome. Dichotomous thinking causes indecisiveness, since according to the individual's perception a decision, once made, will be either entirely right or entirely wrong. Due to their exacting precision, they take an excessive amount of time to perform tasks. For example, the perfectionist kindergartner may produce two entirely straight lines out of ten attempts, but the emotional fatigue she experiences may hamper her future performance and detract from the value of the effort. Even small tasks become overwhelming, which leads to frustration, procrastination, and further anxiety caused by time constraints.

Perfectionists also pay selective attention to their own achievements, criticizing themselves for mistakes or failures, and downplaying their successes. Overwhelmed by anxiety about their future performance, they are unable to enjoy successes.

Perfectionist anxiety can cause headaches, digestive problems, muscle tension, and heart and vascular problems. Anxiety can also cause "blanking" or temporary memory losses before events such as musical performances or academic exams. Perfectionists also hesitate to try new activities for fear of being a beginner at an activity, even for a short period of time. Negative effects of perfectionism are felt especially when an individual is a perfectionist in all areas of life, rather than in one realm, such as an artistic or scientific pursuit, which might allow room for mistakes in other areas of life.

In extreme forms perfectionism may contribute to depression or be diagnosed as obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (which should be distinguished from the more serious obsessive compulsive disorder ). The more common syndromes of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa can be considered an extreme form of perfectionism directed towards the body and its appearance. The irrational distortions of perception that can arise from abnormally high standards of "performance" (i.e., thinness) are evident in the anorexic's perception of her or himself as fat.

The perfectionist's continual high achievements and/or control over events do not lead to satisfaction because there is always something to criticize or worry about, or another goal to achieve. Some perfectionists are other-directed and subject others to impossibly high standards of performance and conduct, causing difficulties in interpersonal relationships. Because they cannot accept their own imperfections, they may adopt a falsely exaggerated self-esteem, which hides an intense insecurity. Other perfectionists subject their own emotions to excessive control, and have difficulty becoming intimate. The perfectionist may be afraid of exposing his imperfections to others, which also causes difficulty with intimacy.

It is important for the perfectionist to set and meet deadlines in order to experience the reward of finishing a task. If procrastination is a special problem, tasks should be broken down into smaller steps or goals to be accomplished, so that the task appears less overwhelming and the feeling of accomplishment can be experienced often as each task is completed. The perfectionist should also be encouraged to take risks simply for the sake of taking risks. A decision to take risks gives the perfectionist permission to be a beginner at a task, and allows him or her to voluntarily relinquish control of a situation. A significant illustration of the value of mistakes and taking risks is the fact that Babe Ruth held the record for the most strikeouts as well as for the most homeruns.

Source: Encyclopedia of Childhood and Adolescence

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