If it is so harmful, why do people engage in perfectionistic behaviour? The cause seems to be a combination of biological makeup coupled with learning.
The human brain prefers to keep things simple – humans have a natural tendency to see things in black and white terms: good v. bad, perfect v. useless, success v. failure, and the like.
Learning builds on this tendency. Children use perfectionistic parents as models. Parents may express anxiety or disappointment at low performance, or show children they will not love or accept them unless they do well.
The wider culture contributes. We are constantly urged to perform to the maximum – at school, in sporting activities, with our social lives, even at sex.
Perfectionism may provide the dubious gain of avoidance: if you believe that things must be done perfectly or not at all, you give yourself a permanent excuse to dodge difficult or uncomfortable tasks – including personal change.
Striving for perfection is often a defence against the two common fears of self-devaluation and discomfort.
You may also dread that your world will collapse if you reduce your standards. The thought of becoming disorganised, careless, dirty, incapable, and unwanted is highly uncomfortable. Though your striving creates anxiety, it seems less threatening than the prospect of chaos and disintegration.
Catch yourself trying to be perfect