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Perfectionism and OCD

written by: Daphne Matthews • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 4/12/2011

Perfectionists strive for perfection with everything they do. Because they are never able to reach it, anxiety and depression take over. Perfectionism and OCD can be a problem for individuals who never know when their work is good enough.

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    Who are Perfectionists?

    Perfectionists are among the most misunderstood of the entire world’s population. That label is even strange to them as most perfectionists feel they have never done anything perfectly. They try for perfection in all that they do, and even though the rest of the world may view their work as being as close to perfect as humanly possible, the perfectionist never considers that their work is complete.

    Clinical psychologist Steven Phillipson, Ph.D., of the Center for Cognitive-Behavioral Psychotherapy says that it is during the ages of 12 – 21 that “most forms of emotional turmoil and mental illness begin," (Phillipson). This is because it is during these years that an adolescent begins to realize that their parents are no longer going to make decisions for them, that they have to make friends on their own, and that family members have their own opinions about who they are (Phillipson). The onset of the OCD perfectionist traits begin during these years.

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    Manifestation of Perfectionism in the Early Years

    Perfectionism and OCD can manifest in many ways for a young adult and one of the most obvious signs can be found in school work. High grades are a positive aspect of perfectionism but the toll of the work to keep those grades can cause anxiety and depression. A perfectionist will spend hours studying but never realize that their lack of sleep will affect their memory. They will write and rewrite pages of homework trying to get a perfect page.

    Procrastination is common among perfectionists because anxiety increases at the thought of having to produce a perfect product. Others who observe these traits laugh never realizing how much the perfectionist struggles. Although not all perfectionists have obsessive compulsive disorder, the two are commonly seen together and can manifest at any age due to stress or trauma.

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    Realists

    The amount of time that it takes a perfectionist to achieve their goal could be better spent. For example, if in the workplace it takes one employee two hours to make their product perfect but someone else only spends 45 minutes with adequate results, an employer is going to prefer the latter. Those who suffer from perfectionism and OCD often struggle to keep up with their peers.

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    Perfectionism or Not

    Those who suffer from perfectionism and OCD deliberately set goals that are unreachable and then demean themselves for not being able to reach them. A person with good mental health sets high goals, just out of reach, and then rewards themselves for getting as close as they can. A healthy person enjoys the process of trying to reach perfection while knowing that it is an unattainable goal, and they see mistakes as an opportunity to learn, (University of Texas 2004).

    Perfectionists who do not suffer from OCD can more reasonably accept an unperfected product because they do not obsess about the situation. These individuals can more easily walk away from a project before it is perfect than can someone with OCD.

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    References:

    Carey, Benedict. “Unhappy? Self-Critical? Maybe You’re Just a Perfectionist." The New York Times. Dec. 4, 2007. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/04/health/04mind.html?_r=1

    Marano, Hara Estroff. “Pitfalls of Perfectionism." March 01, 2008. http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200802/pitfalls-perfectionism?page=4

    Phillipson, Steven, Ph.D. “When the Going Gets tough…the Perfectionists Take Control." OCD Online. http://www.ocdonline.com/Whenthegoinggetstough.php

    University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Counseling Center. “Perfectionism." 2007. http://www.counselingcenter.illinois.edu/?page_id=113