writing center

Why all 3 types of perfectionism are hurting you

July, 15 2019

Subscribe and stay up to date

No spam, we promise! You will only 
receive essential emails.
Dr. Brynn
Written By
Dr. Brynn

Why all 3 types of Perfectionism are Hurting You (& Your Productivity)

There are 3 types of perfectionism:

Self-oriented - strong motivation to be perfect; expecting that you look, act, work, produce, dress etc. perfectly.

Other-oriented - strong motivation for others to be perfect; expecting that others would behave, look, act, work, produce, dress etc. perfectly.

Socially-Prescribed - a belief that others expect you to be, act, work, dress etc. perfect.

Most high-achievers (and let's go out of a limb here and acknowledge that this likely describes YOU) have sub-clinical levels of one, two or all three types of perfectionism.

Great right, that we're all walking around striving for perfection all day?

Well, not so much, actually.

In fact, 'Perfect' by its very definition is a hypothetical construct - no thing, person, circumstance, manifestation, or outcome can in fact be 'perfect' according to any standard, which means that 'perfect' doesn't actually exist in the world. Approximations, perhaps, and perhaps subjective moments of perceived perfection (perfect is all in the eye of the beholder, isn't it?!) - but 'perfect' is in fact impossible to achieve. 

"Perfection is shallow, unreal, & fatally uninteresting."
Anne Lamott

Now imagine that a person continually strives for or is motivated toward 'perfectionism' in themselves, in others, and/or because they believe others require them to. That person isn't just perpetually disappointed, they often end up with challenges that psychologists call 'double binds' or 'double bind problems'.

Double-bind problems are fairly easy to identify by the statements that people make. You know you're listening to someone in a double-bind problem when you hear "I have to...but I can't.." statements.

Some example double-bind statements I've heard recently:

A) "I have to lose 10 pounds but I can't exercise long enough in my day given my workload."

B) "I really want to get my car detailed but I can't find anywhere that'll take me in the evening time after work."

C) "I know I need to renovate my kitchen but I can't find the money in my budget to be able to afford to do it properly."

Double-bind statements aren't just hope-less and self-defeating: according to the research, they are diagnostically predictive of clinical levels of depression, as example.  Further, double-bind statements often create a false causal relationship that works against the person's ability to conceptualize alternative solutions: as example, the person in statement A might come to believe that the 'only way' to lose weight is to exercise excessively, or with all of their spare time. Similarly, the person in statement B might throw out all solutions for car-cleaning that don't include a service-provider who can accommodate them in the evenings; while statement C might leave a person with a kitchen/home/environment they are unhappy with far too long because they won't naturally come to consider how to alter their spending patterns manageably or renovate on a budget, as examples.


As the video highlights: when one strives for things they can't ever seem to achieve, they are consistently and chronically disappointed - in themselves, their circumstances, their progress, and/or in others. 

"Shame loves perfectionists...it's so easy to keep us quiet."
Brené Brown

Chronic disappointment - or as the video describes, consistent 'expectancy violations' (expecting/hoping for one thing ('perfect') and getting another ('not perfect')) - can be a real problem. Problems that aren't just clinically relevant, but that can quickly and easily create sub-clinical levels of anxiety, low affect, depression, dissatisfaction, anhedonia, among a slew of other undesirable neuro-cognitive outcomes. And worse? Perfectionists often score very low on both productivity and motivation inventories in the workplace. 

"Perfection is the enemy of progress." 
Winston Churchill

So this week, if you want to increase your productivity, affect, motivation, progress, do yourself the favor of consciously 'disposing of perfect':

  • Watch for statements or thinking that are presented (even to yourself!) in a 'double bind' fashion;
  • Remember that 'perfect' is a hypothetical;
  • Forgive yourself for not achieving 'perfection' in everything
  • Instead, Congratulate yourself for aiming for 'excellence' in all you do.

Good luck - let us know how it goes in the comments below; like and share this with anyone you think needs this insight today; and have an amazing week!

"To be WORTHY does not mean to be PERFECT." 
Gerrit W. Gong

#mondaymotivation #motivationmonday #motivation #productivity #perfectionism #brainscience #business #careerlife #productivitytips #brainbasedboosters #drbrynn #brainboosters #worklife

View all posts

Subscribe and stay up to date

No spam, we promise! You will only 
receive essential emails.