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Group Therapy for Perfectionism: Why it Works

Perfectionists participating in group therapy in Colorado.

What is perfectionism? In general terms, perfectionism is a set of traits, beliefs and behaviors that cause people to set and pursue exceptionally high standards. People who are perfectionists tend to be overly critical of their own performance and achievements. Some people identify themselves as perfectionists, and others may not. Regardless of how you view yourself and perfectionism, it can have a negative effect on yourself and your mental well-being.

As a therapist who often works with adults with perfectionistic tendencies (and definitely have some myself), I have found that perfectionism is often to be desired. In some ways, the traits, beliefs and behaviors that cause one to be perfectionistic can yield a positive outcome on your life. Perhaps you have advanced through your career due to your diligence, high standards, and expectations for yourself.

Perfectionism, and the will to push yourself to higher levels constantly, can be validating. You can come to love the challenge of trying more, doing more, and being more. And this makes sense - you get positively reinforced for much of your perfectionistic actions and accomplishments, so it makes you want to do this even more.

Conversely, I often see perfectionism as something that eventually takes a toll on your life. Because often those high standards that you set for yourself are actually unrealistic and impossible to meet. And then when you fail to meet those standards, your self-esteem is impacted. You start to doubt yourself, and what has worked in the past to feel better, is no longer working.

Perfectionists as a whole fear making mistakes, so they don’t like to admit when their expectations are reachable. Then this causes guilt, embarrassment, anxiety, and/or depression when they cannot meet their own self-imposed standards. This cycle becomes endless, and you may end up feeling dissatisfied or overwhelmed with your life. And this is when perfectionism becomes a problem.

Where Does Perfectionism Show Up?

Perfectionism can impact all different aspects of your life. This includes work, relationships, academics, and personal goals. Various statistics show that between 20-30% of adults exhibit perfectionistic tendencies. Are you one of those adults? Where does perfectionism show up in your life?

There are different settings where perfectionism is more prevalent, such as academic and professional settings. In particular, you may see more perfectionism in the fields of medicine and law. In general, younger adults are more likely to exhibit perfectionism than older adults. And women tend to experience perfectionism more intensely than men, although not in all cases.

The rise of social media has also likely affected perfectionism. The comparisons that inevitably occur when you’re scrolling through social media can encourage those perfectionistic tendencies. And research also suggests that the Millennials and Generation Z may experience more perfectionism than older generations.

Different cultures can also affect how perfectionism shows up. A culture that prizes high achievement, for example, will likely yield more perfectionists than a culture that emphasizes community and relaxing together.

Regardless of where your perfectionism comes from, it is important to understand what can happen when it gets too extreme. If you are experiencing significant anxiety or depression that is impacting your happiness or fulfillment that you’re getting out of life, and you identify with perfectionism, it may be time to explore how perfectionism can actually have a negative effect on you.

Therapy for Perfectionism

A perfectionist in need of group therapy in Colorado.

Is therapy for perfectionism a thing? Does it exist? Well, yes, and no. There is no one particular theory that is specifically designed to work with perfectionism. But there are several theoretical modalities and interventions that tend to work really well with this type of presentation, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), an evidence-based treatment for anxiety.

The thought patterns and ways of thinking of perfectionists can be viewed as anxiety-based, which is why anxiety therapy works well for this type of person. However, this doesn’t mean that everyone who has anxiety has perfectionism. You need to combine anxiety with high achievement, and that is where perfectionism appears. It’s hard to tell if the anxiety happened first, or the perfectionistic-type thinking, and that is something to tease out with your therapist.

As we know, it’s hard for perfectionists to reach out for help. By the time a perfectionist walks into my office, I know that something really bad had to have happened for them to get there. Perfectionists do not tend to reach out preemptively to say “I want to work on my perfectionism”. Usually they show up in therapy because they are overwhelmed, unsatisfied with their life, can no longer find meaning in their work, or have problems in their relationships.

Perfectionism and Relationships

When perfectionism causes problems in relationships, this is when group therapy versus individual therapy is indicated. Some problems that perfectionists can have in relationships are:

  • Difficulty trusting others

  • Struggles with communication

  • Overworking and neglecting relationships

  • Fear of failure (and thus, rejection)

  • Unrealistic expectations of themselves and others

  • Challenges being your true, authentic self

  • People-pleasing

All of these issues can and do show up in relationships for perfectionists.

For perfectionists, at our core, we are not confident and happy with ourselves and what we have to offer. We keep thinking we need to strive for more, to be better. Maybe it’s being a better friend, a better partner, or a better parent. Or perhaps it’s a better employee or boss. Because we don’t believe in ourselves, it’s hard to see how others could believe in ourselves too, if they see our true self.

Group Therapy for Perfectionism

Many of these relationship challenges that perfectionists face cannot be dealt with appropriately through just individual therapy. Individual therapy is great, and a wonderful option for many, even for perfectionists, for a while. But after a time, what can have a more significant impact, is being put into a group therapy space where a perfectionist is confronted with their relationship challenges, and offered a safe space in how to work through them.

Group therapy allows a perfectionist to practice being your true, authentic self, all while getting honest feedback from other group members. And once you feel safe and secure showing your true self within the group boundaries, it’s now time to practice showing up in your relationships this same way.

The power that a group, and members within the group, has is that it helps you combat your negative thinking about yourself. It’s easy to dismiss just one person when they say something that may challenge your perfectionistic belief system, but it’s harder when several people do that. You may start to listen, and even trust, your fellow group members, moreso that you do yourself. And that’s the power of group therapy for perfectionism.

Accepting Yourself as a Perfectionist

Perfectionists in need of group therapy in Colorado.

In group therapy, you have not only a therapist, but also other group members, who can help you identify and challenge your perfectionistic beliefs. You can get support in setting realistic versus unattainable goals for yourself (and others). And you can start to practice self-compassion, where you learn to fully accept you as you are, flaws and all. Because if you can accept yourself, then others around you can also.

Unconditional positive regard, a term coined by person-centered therapist and pioneer Carl Rogers, means that people accept you for who you are, regardless of what you are going through. It is very healing for perfectionists to experience unconditional positive regard. In individual therapy, your therapist may provide this exposure to you. In group therapy, you may get this from other group members, also.

Other Benefits of Group Therapy for Perfectionists

Some perfectionists call themselves “people pleasers”, which means that you constantly put the needs of others ahead of your own needs. This is a specific topic that can be talked through in group therapy, also. What is it like for people who are not people pleasers, and how do they do this? Getting perspectives from other group members on how to live a non-perfectionistic lifestyle can be incredibly helpful.

One thing that I’ve noticed in my therapy work with perfectionists is that many if not most perfectionists are incredibly lonely. Even if they are surrounded by people, or part of a family, you may still feel like no one fully understands or gets you. Because it’s so hard to open up and be vulnerable with others, you may not connect on as deep a level with others as you wish for. Group therapy gives you a built-in support system of others who may be experiencing similar challenges.

Perfectionists also may need to learn how to communicate with others in a way that is different from how they have communicated before. As you start to change and evolve as a person, into your true and authentic self, your communication style may also need to change. Group counseling gives you the opportunity to try and practice new forms of communication, in a safe environment, before you transfer your newly learned skills to the outside world.

It is very important to have a skilled group facilitator in any therapy groups that a perfectionist might be part of. Because you are really good at hiding who you truly are, and letting others only see the parts of you that you want them to see. It takes an experienced group therapist to see how you are presenting yourself and then encourage a different way of being with others.

Group therapy in particular can be very scary for perfectionists. Now it’s several people that you have to show up to as your best self, and that can be pressure. But the benefits of group counseling far outweigh the anxiety you may feel starting a group with people that you don’t know. I’ve seen amazing results from group therapy for the perfectionists that I have worked with.

How to Seek Therapy for Perfectionism

Are there therapists who specialize in treatment for perfectionism? Yes, there are. They are out there and just waiting to be found by you. Many therapists who specialize in this type of work will probably include it in their therapist bios, or on their websites. Not every therapist specializes in working with perfectionists, but there are enough out there that you can definitely find someone to work with.

There are not as many groups that are specifically for perfectionists. Here at Catalyss Counseling, we offer a virtual Recovering Perfectionists Group for adults who live in Colorado. We also offer a Relationship Process Group that is focused more on relationships in general. However, any therapy group that is considered an interpersonal process group will be a good fit for perfectionists.

Final Thoughts

Perfectionists in need of group therapy in Colorado.

Life can be hard for perfectionists. On the one hand, your perfectionism got you to where you are right now, and to outsiders, you may have the “perfect” life. But on the inside, you may feel like your true self is slowly disintegrating or withering away. If you take any one thing from reading this article, I’d love for you to start practicing imperfection and compassion for yourself.

It’s ok to give yourself a bit of understanding or grace. You are an amazing person, and have likely had a significant positive impact on those around you - whether it’s your family, friends, or work colleagues. You have probably inspired others, and are considered a strong person. Now, your challenge is to really believe that you can show up as yourself in your own life. I know you can do it, it just takes a bit of practice every day.

Take a moment to start a new mantra for yourself, and repeat this mantra every time you start thinking impossible thoughts. Instead of telling yourself that you aren’t good enough, try instead to say “I’m doing the best that I can right now” and start to believe this. This will go a long way towards changing that perfectionistic mindset.

If you are looking for therapy for perfectionism and you live in Colorado, check out our therapists at Catalyss Counseling. We have several who work with high achievers like yourself, and several of our group offerings may be appropriate treatment for you. You can feel better about yourself and get on top of your life again.

How We Can Help:

Contact us for a free 20-minute phone consultation to see which type of counseling might be the right fit for you!

Our caring and compassionate therapists have experience in treating many mental health-related issues!

Follow these simple steps if you are looking for general support, or if you would like to talk to someone more about how we can help you:

  1. Contact us today for a free 20-minute phone consultation

  2. Or, you can book directly online with the therapist of your choice

  3. Begin your journey towards a calmer, more balanced life

Other Therapy Services Available at Catalyss Counseling:

Author Biography

The owner of Catalyss Counseling, Shannon Heers, located in Englewood CO and serving all of Colorado through online therapy and in person counseling.

Shannon Heers is a psychotherapist, approved clinical supervisor with Firelight Supervision, guest blogger, and the owner of a group psychotherapy practice in the Denver area. Shannon helps adults in professional careers manage anxiety, depression, work-life balance, and grief and loss. Follow Catalyss Counseling on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.

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