5 Signs You Might Be a Perfectionist

Natalie Englander is an award-winning Consultant Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and Mindfulness Teacher, specialising in therapy and mindfulness for perfectionists. Exclusively for the new Travelista mental health segment, she shares with us, 5 signs you might be a perfectionist.

What if I told you there’s a chance you could be a perfectionist without even realising?

Perfectionism can show up in many different ways, some more obvious than others. Many of my clients seek therapy knowing full well they’re perfectionists. It’s exactly what they want to work on, because let’s face it, being a perfectionist is EXHAUSTING. But some of my clients come to me for help with something else like anxiety, low self-esteem or burnout. It’s not until we’ve started working together that they realise ‘OMG this is called perfectionism, I’m a perfectionist?!’.

I always welcome this light bulb moment because I know how important it is to recognise perfectionism and be honest about how it’s affecting our behaviour. Left unchecked, it can have a negative impact on our wellbeing. It’s also a common factor in a number of mental health problems including obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and eating disorders. So, what are the 5 signs of perfectionism and why are they so hard to spot?

Why perfectionism can be hard to spot

Some experts believe perfectionism isn’t something people either have or don’t have. Instead, it could be something we all experience to varying degrees. If you’ve been thinking and behaving in a particular way for a long time, it becomes your normal. The fact we tend to celebrate the positive aspects of perfectionism (such as attention to detail and striving for achievement) also adds to the confusion.

Perfectionism can be hard to spot because it shows up in lots of different ways. Self-criticism, people pleasing, imposter syndrome… the list goes on. It’s not until we start connecting the dots that a pattern of perfectionism begins to emerge.

Some perfectionists don’t recognise their perfectionism because they feel so imperfect. While focussing on their own perceived flaws and failings, they imagine perfectionists to be super organised, well put together high achievers. 

The main thing to know though if you do spot perfectionism, is that it isn’t all doom and gloom – being a perfectionist isn’t all bad! I’m proof that you don’t have to ‘overcome’ your perfectionism to be happy, but you do have to learn how to manage it. It’s important to make sure your perfectionism is healthy and adaptive, as opposed to being unhealthy and maladaptive i.e. when you feel like you’ve become your own worst enemy.

The 5 main signs of perfectionism

In a nutshell perfectionism is about wanting to be perfect, but more specifically it’s about having unrelenting high standards and pushing yourself really hard to meet your goals. You’re often left feeling like a failure deep down (hello imposter syndrome!) because you focus on what you haven’t achieved rather than what you have achieved.

But what you might notice showing up in your life day-to-day is actually these 5 things:

1. Anxiety & Worrying
2. Overthinking & Indecisiveness
3. Procrastination & Avoidance
4. Self-doubt & Self-Criticism
5. High Standards & All-or-Nothing Thinking

Perfectionists can’t help but feel anxious all the time – it’s anxiety provoking feeling the pressure to be the perfect wife/mum/friend/colleague and more! Queue the endless worrying and overthinking…along with what can sometimes feel like an excruciating inability to make decisions over anything and everything. 

When this all gets too much perfectionists usually start avoiding things, because procrastinating feels easier and safer – putting something off means we don’t have to deal with the fear of failure and self-doubt. Because let’s face it, when you’re a perfectionist life can be black and white, ‘it’s either perfect or I’ve failed’!

10 Perfectionist traits to look out for

If this is feeling familiar then here are a few other perfectionist traits to look out for;

Excessive checking

  • List making
  • Correcting others
  • Excessive organising
  • Difficulty delegating
  • Avoiding asking for help
  • Avoiding trying new things
  • Giving up too soon
  • Indecisiveness
  • Putting things off
  • Avoiding tasks where you might fail
  • Often feeling guilty
  • Struggling to relax

Find out more

Sound familiar? Wondering what to do next? You may find the following links helpful:

About Natalie Englander

Natalie has been practicing CBT for over 12 years and has spent most of her time working in the NHS as a Senior CBT Therapist leading mental health services in London. She has also worked in private hospitals such as The Priory, and has worked with a range wide of client groups including children, teenagers, and adults. She currently works in the NHS as Deputy Clinical Lead & Principal CBT Therapist for a Talking Therapies service in Hertfordshire, alongside her private practice specialising in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness. She has also achieved Supervisor Accreditation status with the British Association for Behavioural & Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP), and I she is soon to be a member of the British Psychological Society (BPS).

Jessica Ruth Gibson is the Founder and Editor of Travelista and an award-winning travel content creator of 10 years. She lives in York, UK with her son and has travelled to over 50 countries; her favourites being Italy, Canada and Vietnam.

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