If you feel like your best is never good enough, you may suffer from perfectionism—and you’re not alone. One 2017 study published by the American Psychological Association says that perfectionism is on the rise, especially among young people. Not surprising when images of the ideal vacation or boasts about a brand-new job are always a scroll away on social media.
Perfectionism is broadly defined as excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations. But it’s not one size fits all: There are actually three types of perfectionism, identified by longtime Canadian researchers Gordon Flett and Paul Hewitt.
Pinpointing your perfectionism persona will help combat that nothing-but-the-best urge. The trick? Melting the Iceberg Belief that drives your striving. Also known as self-limiting beliefs, Iceberg Beliefs are deep-seated thoughts and rules we have about ourselves and the world that hold us back. They exist in three areas: achievement, social, and control. Each one pairs with a different type of perfectionism.
The Self-Oriented Perfectionist
This perfectionist sets high standards for themselves and ruthlessly evaluates their own behavior. They also try to avoid failure at all costs. If you’ve ever beaten yourself up over saying the wrong thing in a meeting or if negative feedback is your nightmare, this might be you. Self-critical people exist in the “achievement” domain. They cling to an Iceberg Belief that they should do everything perfectly and that failure is a weakness.
What to Do: Sometimes this drive helps you excel. Other times, though, it means you can’t handle criticism and dwell on failures, which happen to everyone. Ask yourself why you need to be perfect at all times. Are you afraid of losing a job? Being vulnerable or judged? Losing control? Try to identify what drives your quest for perfection. Then you can begin to challenge the belief. List the times you’ve failed in the past and resiliently bounced back. Frame each as a learning experience instead of a flaw.
The Other-Oriented Perfectionist
This perfectionist holds others to high standards, which often results in blame and distrust when the other person somehow falls short (and they will). While encouraging others to be their best is a key quality in leaders, it’s not helpful if you can’t tolerate other people’s inevitable foibles. This type of perfectionist lives in the “control” domain. They feel threatened by an erratic world, and their quest for control comes from a need for safety.
What to Do: Remind yourself that you can’t affect other people’s behavior, but you can control your response. By mastering your own reactions, you’re far more safe and secure than when you’re haphazardly reacting to other people’s unpredictable actions.
The Socially-Prescribed Perfectionist
This perfectionist tries to live up to other people’s standards. They crave approval and dread reproach from others. Not surprisingly, this results in negative emotions whenever they feel unaccepted or judged. This perfectionist lives in the “social” domain. They’re often people-pleasers who avoid conflict at all costs and long for people to think the best of them.
What to Do: In this case, it’s helpful to find a mantra: Next time you fall short, practice positive self-talk, reminding yourself of all the times you’ve done well. Tell yourself: “I’m only human, and sometimes mistakes happen.” Then think about the people you care about—and the mistakes they’ve made. You still value them, right? Extend yourself the same kindness.