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CBT Can Heal Perfectionism

perfectionism

CBT Can Heal Perfectionism

Perfectionism is a term that is broadly used. You will often hear someone say he or she is such a perfectionist in everything they do. Is this a bad thing or a good thing? When we read the definition in the Webster Dictionary you will automatically think, ahh it’s a good thing. The definition given is: a:  the doctrine that the perfection of moral character constitutes a person’s highest good. Many people aspire to be as good as they can be and at times this can lead to severe mental health problems when they don’t achieve this goal. Compulsive obsessive disorder is only one such disorder that can be associated with perfectionism. The individual desires to and becomes obsessed with the intricacies of life. They want everything new and perfect and in the right place. The definition for compulsive obsessive disorder given in medical journals is: A psychiatric disorder characterized by obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions, such as cleaning, checking, counting, or hoarding.

Colette Kearns a senior Cognitive Behavioural Therapist at St Patricks University Hospital describes perfectionism as follow: ‘Perfectionism’ is a term used to describe a person who strives to achieve their best performance in things they do. Perfectionism can relate to many parts of a persons’ life or just to one part. Common areas that perfectionism occurs are in work life, home life, study, relationships and friendships, social performance, personal appearance, cleanliness or activities such as sports, exercise or music. These areas are generally ones that are very important to the person. Perfectionism is the setting of, and striving to meet, very demanding standards that are self-imposed and relentlessly pursued despite this causing problems. It involves basing one’s self-worth almost exclusively on how well these standards are pursued and achieved. (Shafran et al 2007)”

This does not sound so negative at all, but research has shown that perfectionism can be healthy or un-helpful. It is about finding the balance. An obsession with perfectionism can lead to an unhealthy lifestyle and can negatively impact on those you live with or work with. If you desire to always have everything done in the most perfect way and you spend hours on achieving it and you go mad when you can’t get the results, you will end up sick and discontent. People you live or work with might not understand your reasons for e.g. over working the staff or the late hours you spent at the office to get more done than the other guy. They might feel there are other ways of achieving your goals e.g. reasonable hours or hiring extra staff. Even though the individual believes that he or she is doing something productive, or absolutely necessary, there could be no real need for it. What can you do to make perfectionism work in your favour so that there is a healthy and not an unhelpful outcome?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can help improve perfectionism. Colette says: “CBT is evidence based psychological approach which has been found useful in treating many different problems. Research shows us it is effective in treating depression, anxiety disorders (phobias, panic disorders, OCD, GAD, BPD, BDD, Habit disorders) and other problems e.g. anger, sleeping difficulties, Low Self Esteem, psychosis, sexual problems and medically unexplained symptoms. Perfectionism may be a factor in the development of the problems described above and also may keep these problems going.”

CBT aims to change thoughts, beliefs and behaviour patterns that cause the problems we have already mentioned by understanding the problem and identifying the root of the problem at a deeper level. Once this is discovered the healing process begins and the problem can be reduced. Colette goes on to say in her three part series on perfectionism: “CBT in the main focuses on the here and now. However, we do look to past early experiences that may have led to beliefs that keep problems going in the here and now. Case formulation is the way we do this. This is useful as it helps someone understand their perfectionism and then how to make a change.”

Until such time remember it is okay to be perfectly imperfect.

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