Burnout – the trap of perfectionism - Helping Hand - Mental Health Programme

Burnout – the trap of perfectionism

Work takes up more than one-half of our lives. On average, we spend about 40 hours per week working. Frequently, the number of working hours is much higher. Work can be perceived as a calling, a source of money, and a space for self-actualization. However, it may lead to emotional and physical exhaustion under certain conditions, which gradually leads to burnout. Burnout is a condition in which work, performed until now with satisfaction, is no longer pleasant; we feel exhausted and discouraged, among other things, because of excessive perfectionism.

Everything at 100%

Perfectionism is a tendency to establish high standards of functioning for ourselves or others. A healthy perfectionist defines high standards for themselves. They perform their work tasks the best they can; simultaneously, they like to be demanding towards themselves – it makes them feel good. An unhealthy perfectionist always believes that whatever they do is not good enough. They reprimand themselves for failures, at the same time disregarding their achievements. In self-evaluation, they compare themselves to others, and if they are unable to succeed, they get discouraged and feel inferior. Therefore, they are often unable to feel joy or satisfaction.

Perfectionism and burnout – the harmonious duo

If a given person, assessing the performance of their tasks, is constantly dissatisfied with something, they treat even the slightest mistake as a failure. If they tend to underestimate their achievements and are always unhappy with themselves, the probability of burnout in their case is relatively high. In the case of such a person, the way of thinking about work is dominated by the negative. They find it challenging to identify new and exciting aspects of their assignments; they often distance themselves from their work.

Fear of failure

Piotr (44) came to the crisis practitioner’s office because of dissatisfaction with his work duties and constant tension that he could not handle. He stated that his managerial position was consistent with his preferences, and he did not wish to change it. He pointed the source of his problems as the hidden concern of not being good enough as an employee, and that his efforts did not bring the results expected by the employer. As we analyzed the history of his professional experience, it turned out that Piotr had established very ambitious objectives for himself from the very beginning of his employment while finding it difficult to accept small mistakes. Every failure that anyone else would have considered a natural part of their career development was taken by him as his weakness and a reason for excessive criticism. Despite his superior’s appreciation, he felt a growing tension, loss of joy because of the duties assigned, and fear that he was not doing well enough. During the subsequent meetings, we unveiled the image of his family home, dominated by an overly critical and demanding father. It was the relationship with his father that Piotr identified as the source of his attitude towards work that took away his joy and satisfaction. “For as long as I can remember, my father was always strict with me. He criticized all of my minor achievements, saying I could have done better. When I came second at a school contest, he said only first place was something to be proud of. When I was first, he told me not to rest on my glories. He was never happy with me. Whatever I achieved, he never appreciated. Perhaps now I’m unable to appreciate myself, chasing something that doesn’t even exist, forgetting about what I’ve got.”

Take it easy

When the level of tension and frustration at work is hard to bear, it may be a good decision to consult a psychologist or a psychotherapist. The ways of coping with unwanted perfectionism will be established during the session, and its causes will be discovered. The ability to appreciate yourself and find your value, independent of others, is yet another task in which a specialist may be very helpful. Working on self-acceptance is also hard work. It is good to dare be imperfect. Accept the fact that everyone makes mistakes and that failures are also meaningful experiences. They allow us to fund our way, discover who we are. As soon as we understand this, we can learn to love our work and everyday duties.

Author: Mariusz Krzyżanowski

psychologist – five-year M.Sc. studies and four-year Ph.D. studies, crisis practitioner (University of Social Sciences and Humanities – in the course of certification), certified HR Business Partner (Warsaw School of Economics)

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