Wanting to be the best you can be whilst remaining motivated and ambitious is not a bad thing. However, there are significant differences between a conscientious person driven to succeed and a perfectionist.
Perfectionists tend to have a hypercritical view of themselves, which is ultimately self-defeating. They often have an inner critic with unrealistic desires and expectations to achieve perfection. This tends to be fuelled by the fear of failure rather than striving for success. This can lead to avoidance and procrastination if things appear too challenging.
Perfectionists tend to have an all or nothing approach to success and failure with tendencies to catastrophize the failures as it impacts on their self-worth. Perfectionist’s self-worth relies heavily on their ability to meet standards. However, should perfectionist fail to meet these standards it is not uncommon for them to experience shame rather than a healthier sense of disappointment.
A conscientious person will have developed adaptive ways of coping. When they don’t succeed, they learn from the failure and continue to engage in the tasks. Perfectionist will respond badly to failure and feel strong negative emotions of guilt, shame and anger which ironically causes detrimental behaviour to what they are hoping to achieve. Either becoming obsessed with an increased amount of effort or avoiding it all together.
Reference: Shafran, R., Egan, S., & Wade, T. (2018). Overcoming Perfectionism 2nd Edition: A self-help guide using scientifically supported cognitive behavioural techniques. Robinson.
Written by Jessica Flindell
Nursing midwifery council (NMC). British association of behavioural and cognitive psychotherapy (BABCP). Credentials: BSc(Hons), PGdip and Fully accredited BABCP practitioner. Certified provider of cognitive processing therapy (CPT) and Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) practitioner.