Perfectionism is a combination of excessively high personal standards and overly critical personal evaluations. It can show up at different times during adolescence and in different areas of life. For example, a teen may be a perfectionist at school but completely indifferent at home. While perfectionism does have its good points, it can be taken to an unhealthy extreme, so it’s important to recognize the differences, especially if you want to help your teen move from unhealthy perfectionism to healthy perfectionism.
Unhealthy perfectionists are unwilling to take risks. They prefer to stay in their comfort zone, where they feel a sense of control and safety. Also, they tend to hyper-focus on their mistakes rather than successes, which triggers intense self-criticism and shame. Although it seems illogical, unhealthy perfectionists can be extreme procrastinators. They avoid starting projects or tasks for fear of failing or feeling not good enough. Unhealthy perfectionists have a difficult time making decisions and prioritizing because they fear being wrong. They are so anxious about getting everything exactly right in one area of their lives, that they neglect other areas. Many unhealthy perfectionists become isolated and exhausted because they put so much time, energy, and focus into reaching an unrealistic personal standard of success. Unhealthy perfectionism can negatively impact a teen’s mental health and lead to depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.
On the other end of the spectrum is healthy perfectionism. Healthy perfectionists have learned how to set realistic personal standards. They are effective goal-setters and committed to the process of achieving their goals. Along the way, they focus on improvement, learn from their mistakes, and welcome challenges. Unlike unhealthy perfectionists, healthy perfectionists focus on mastery and learning. They are interested in personal growth and understanding how to use their strengths and talents to overcome weaknesses and move forward in life.
If your teen struggles with unhealthy perfectionism or is at risk of becoming an unhealthy perfectionist, there are things you can do to help! In next week’s blog, you will learn five common unhealthy perfectionistic tendencies and how to support your teen in turning them into healthy, productive habits.