Quick Help Guide Perfectionism

What is Perfectionism?

A person with perfectionism sets unrealistically high standards on his or her performance, rigidly adheres to these standards, and equates self-worth with performance. An all-pervasive attitude toward life, perfectionism can create debilitating emotions and unproductive behavior.

Recognizing perfectionistic behaviors and thoughts along with setting goals based on wants, desires, and likes instead of expectations are ways to overcoming the unhealthy belief that perfection is possible.

Other Facets of Perfectionism*

  • Concern over mistakes: Perfectionists tend to interpret mistakes as equivalent to failure and believe they will lose the respect of others following failure.
  • High personal standards: Perfectionists don’t just set very high standards but place excessive importance on those standards for self-evaluation.
  • Parental expectations: Perfectionists tend to believe their parents set very high goals for them.
  • Parental criticism: Perfectionists perceive that their parents are (or were) overly critical.
  • Doubting actions: Perfectionists doubt their ability to accomplish tasks.
  • Organization: Perfectionists tend to emphasize order.

* “Pitfalls of Perfectionism” from www.psychologytoday.com

Warning Signs

  • Fear of failure or making mistakes
  • Fear of disapproval
  • Thinking that it’s all or nothing, black or white, perfect or inadequate
  • Structuring life on “shoulds” that serve as rigid rules 
  • Believing that success comes easy for everyone else 
  • Guilt, pessimism, low self-esteem
  • Rigidity
  • Lack of motivation, extensive procrastination
  • Heightened anxiety caused by worrying about the “what-ifs” of upcoming events (tests, speeches, dates, etc.)
  • Inability to enjoy successes and leisure if other hurdles remain
  • Depression

Taking Care of Yourself

How To Defeat Perfectionism

  • Take a realistic look at how you are living and how you relate to others and yourself. Think about the perfectionism warning signs.
  • Consider asking a friend to offer an objective opinion.
  • Be balanced. You are a human being, not a human doing. There is more to life than what you can accomplish. Family, friends, and having fun are important, too.
  • Set a goal to re-balance or re-prioritize your life accordingly and pray for help in doing this.
  • Admit that you are imperfect, and be honest with those you trust about your struggles and needs.
  • Separate who you are from what you do. You (and others) are lovable and valuable for your unique personality, gifts, dreams, feelings, and experiences.
  • Shift your mindset. Instead of making demands or placing unreasonable expectations on yourself and others, take an attitude of “I would like to…,” “I’m going to work toward…,” and “I’d appreciate it if you could…”
  • Strive to do an excellent job at what is most important to you, remembering that excellent means “very good,” not perfect.
  • When you are working on a project, remember to enjoy the process.
  • When you do a good job, feel proud of yourself. When someone compliments you, say “thank you.”

How to Improve Your Body Image

  • Changing your thinking should be purposeful. Take time each day to focus on what you are grateful for with your appearance, and start to shift your focus from criticism to gratitude.
  • Take note of your internal messages. Memorize Scripture (see Related Scripture) to begin replacing negative messages with the truth—that God created you and loves you as you are.
  • Reject unrealistic ideals.
  • Give yourself a break from magazines and other mass media.
  • Overall health and well-being are key components for maintaining a healthy body image and vice versa. 
  • Practice empathy and non-judgment toward yourself and others.
  • Find a friend, pastor, RA, or someone you trust with whom you can talk. The staff in Counseling Services, Student Life, Campus Pastor’s Office, and Residence Life are available to listen as well.

How to Help a Friend

  • Encourage your friend to seek the help of a pastor, Christian counselor, or psychologist to help work through the sources of a negative body image.
  • Offer to pray with your friend in addition to praying for your friend.
  • Be available to spend time and listen. Simply being present conveys a message of value and worth.
  • If you are unsure of how to approach your friend, talk to your RA or someone you trust to help.
  • If you are concerned and think your friend may need help beyond what you can offer, contact Student Life, Counseling Services, Campus Pastor’s Office, or Residence Life.

·    What if these suggestions don’t work?

The Student Life Office and Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) can help you get in touch with specialized help on or off campus. Individual counseling is available on campus in addition to support offered by staff in Campus Pastor’s office, Student Life and Residence Life. 

If you need immediate assistance, please call 911, the On Call RD at (805) 565-6273 or Westmont Public Safety at (805) 565-6222.

On- and Off-Campus Support

Student Life Office: Room 209 Kerrwood Hall, (805) 565-6028

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) - westmont.edu/caps -  (805) 565-6003

Campus Pastor’s Office: Clark B Cottage, (805) 565-6170 

Your Resident Directors

Related Scriptures

He does not condemn you: Romans 8:1

He forgives you: 1 John 1:9

He loves you: John 3:16

He offers rest: Matthew 11:28-30

When we decide to follow Christ, we are deemed “not guilty”—perfect (Hebrews 10:8-14). Because He died on the cross for us, our relationship with God is perfect and unchanging (Colossians 2:9-10).

Our actions in pursuing God and earthly success, on the other hand, are not perfect and never will be, as Paul says in Philippians 3:12: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” We are called to strive to follow Him as best as we can and work toward our earthly goals (Colossians 3:23), but never let our own pride or desire for perfection overpower the perfection we have in relationship with Christ.

Additional Resources 

Online: www.newhopenow.org


Healing Grace: Finding Freedom from the Performance Trap by David Seamands

Hope for the Perfectionist by David Stoop

When Your Best Isn’t Good Enough by Kevin Leman