12 Perfectionistic Thinking Styles
I am seeing more and more girls and young women struggle with some level of perfectionistic thinking. Our culture is highly performance driven and the standards and expectations are often ridiculously high or unattainable.
Some girls can adapt and not let it overwhelm them and others due to personality and brain development struggle with their thoughts. Perfectionistic thinking styles will show up in most areas of life not just one.
Academics, social, physical appearance, sports, performing arts, “the good girl” and health are just some of the areas you might hear and see her perfectionistic thinking style play out.
Dr. Martin Antony, PhD and Dr. Richard Swinson MD have written an excellent book called When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough. In it they present several strategies for coping with perfectionism. They also discuss 12 perfectionistic thinking styles.
Here are the 12 most common perfectionistic thinking styles. It’s fair to say that most of us struggle with these on some level but girls who are developing clinical levels of perfectionism, the kind that leads to high anxiety, eating disorders and self-harming behaviors will struggle more often and struggle with several of these…
1. All or Nothing
This is often seen as black and white thinking or right vs wrong. It leaves no room for the complexity of most situations. It’s considered the most common perfectionistic way of thinking. These standards are excessively high, unrealistic or unattainable
All or nothing thoughts focused on others present as anger. All or nothing thoughts focused on self play out as depression and anxiety.
This type of thinking pattern will selectively focus on the negative details over the positive. Positive details are dismissed as unimportant even non-existent. For example perfectionists might get a C on a homework assignment and have an A in the class and an A in all other classes but she is only able to focus on that C.
3. Mind Reading
Mind reading makes the assumption that “I know what you are thinking and it’s bad or negative”. They think they know your thoughts about them and they always assume it is negative. She assumes her teacher is mad at her because the teacher didn’t smile at her in class.
4. Overestimating Probability of the Negative
Perfectionists are experts at predicting negative outcomes and assume the worst most of the time. They will also overestimate danger. For example, if I go to the dance no one will talk to me and I will be left out of the pictures. They don't want me to come.
5. Tunnel Vision
This is a hyper-focus on details or a single detail and not able to see the bigger picture. This contributes to delays and procrastination and will cause her task completion to be a lot slower. For example she may do excessive research on a topic instead of getting the paper or project done.
6. Interpersonal Sensitivity
This means the opinions of others are very important and there is an extreme need for the approval of others.
7. Catastrophic Thinking
This is “end of the world” thinking. Perfectionists assume they will not be able to cope if something negative happens. They will predict that an event would be unmanageable. For example “if I fall during a cheer stunt everyone will hate me”
8. Excessively Rigid
Girls who are excessively rigid will be unable to lower their standards or make changes easily. They struggle to be flexible. They are often very critical of themselves or others because of the rigid thinking.
Perfectionists believe they have more control then they actually do. They believe they can control themselves or others in a way that is “right” or better. They can be highly critical of themselves or others and relationship problems are often common.
I will often point out to girls that they are “shoulding” on themselves. “The shoulds” provide a bunch of rules and pressure that is mostly unnecessary or made up. “Musts” are another version of this. Be listening for these as the more you hear them the higher the perfectionism.
11. Difficulty Trusting Others
This is about trusting others to do tasks. Perfectionists have a hard time delegating and may watch others closely. They will greatly dislike group work at school. They may struggle with trusting you do to certain things for them and ask you about it over and over.
12. Social Comparisons
Everyone compares themselves to others but perfectionists do it all the time and they almost always assume they are less then or not good enough. Perfectionists excessively compare and have difficulty getting over perceived losses, weakness, mistakes or failures. They will be excessively watching social media.
One thing to notice with all of these thought patterns is that if someone is struggling with them you can see how their anxiety levels are going to be high. Often girls come in with anxiety problems and we discover that underneath it all is a lot of perfectionism.
Girls are developing and the younger they are you might not see some of these just yet because they require a more complex way of thinking but be on the look out. As she ages you will notice more and more of these thought patterns and they will begin to control her life.
Perfectionism in its self isn't always a terrible thing. Channeled properly perfectionists can get a lot done and do it well. There is a fine line between excellence and perfectionism. If she can learn to be more flexible in general and learn to see there are many ways to look at a situation her stress and anxiety will go down.