8 Ways Toxic Perfectionism Seeps Into Your Life & Sabotages Your Happiness

Once you know the source, you can cut it off and prevent further harm.

Perhaps somewhere in your life, you had a teacher, a parent, or a sibling who placed unusually high demands on you. Asking, expecting, and even demanding that you always do better or be better.

Sometimes, it can be as simple as a passing comment that anchors a belief in your subconscious mind. Other times, it’s persistent and relentless demands for perfection that have shaped your behaviors and habits well into adulthood.

The truth is, there are several ways that a need for perfectionism in your life seeps into your psyche and can wreak havoc on your sense of self-worth and self-esteem. The result creates a nasty case of Imposter Syndrome that keeps you hiding out in the shadows for fear of rejection or rebuke.

Remember, some level of perfectionism can be a healthy driver to have you become the best in class at what you do.

However, when it becomes detrimental to your sense of self, that’s when it’s time to look your perfectionism in the face and dial it down to a healthier and more sustainable level.

Eight places to look for the source of your toxic perfectionism (& stop it in its tracks)

As you review the list below, make a mental note of what might be driving your perfectionist behaviors. Stay tuned for my follow-up article on how to tame your perfectionism, the self-doubt and imposter syndrome that often accompanies it.

1. Nature

Research suggests that perfectionism may have a genetic component, which means that it can be inherited from one’s parents.

Whether this is inherited from their chromosome material or the learned patterns of perfectionistic abuse handed down from one generation to the next is worthy of further discussion.

2. Nurture

Excessive demands for perfectionism from parents, teachers, or other authority figures during childhood who were highly critical, shaming, or abusive can also contribute to developing perfectionistic behaviors in a person.

3. Insecure attachment

We all seek to love and feel loved. However, suppose you have an insecure attachment style, such as anxious or avoidant attachment. In that case, it can also contribute to developing perfectionism tendencies to prove one’s lovability in relationships.

4. Fear of failure

Fear of failure or making mistakes can drive someone to strive for perfection and avoid any possibility of failure. This can be driven by outside forces such as parental controls, a boss, or even from within yourself, as the critical self-voice drives you to be the best constantly.

5. Low self-esteem or feeling inadequate

People with low self-esteem and low self-worth may feel the need to be perfect to gain approval, love, or acceptance from others. They feel their value is only measured by their achievements, not simply by who they authentically are.

6. Black-or-white thinking

Having a fixed mindset (vs. a growth mindset) that there are only 2 options for completion. Perfection or anything less than that, which is unacceptable and means “I’m no good” or “I’m never enough.”

7. Trauma

Trauma, such as childhood abuse or neglect, can contribute to the development of perfectionism as a coping mechanism to gain control over one’s environment in an attempt to feel “safe” and quiet the incessant voice of fear in your mind that can run you to the point of exhaustion.

8. Cultural, educational, and social expectations

Cultural, educational, and social expectations around achievement and success can also contribute to the development of perfectionism. Social media has created a constant state of compare and contrast with others’ seemingly “perfect” lives, which can lead to a host of other addictions, disorders, and even suicidal ideation.

According to the Pain In the Nation 2022 Report, “Deaths associated with alcohol, drugs, and suicide took the lives of 186,763 Americans in 2020, a 20 percent one-year increase in the combined death rate and the highest number of substance misuse deaths ever recorded for a single year.”

*If someone you know suffers from toxic perfectionism and is dealing with addiction or suicidal ideations, please seek help by dialing or messaging 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis hotline, available 24 hours a day.

There is hope, and there is help!

You can retrain your brain to quiet those inner voices driving your perfectionism and find a more empowering dialogue with yourself.

No matter how many years you’ve been plagued with these levels of toxic perfectionism, you can learn to adopt new perspectives that enable you to give something your best while not becoming all-consuming.

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