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Cultural Traditions that can Contribute to Perfectionism (and other bad stuff)

Destructive traditions like impression management, scarcity thinking, and oversimplification, that create an environment in which perfectionism can thrive—along with healthier alternatives. Compare harmful (familiar) patterns with their healthier alternatives.

Impression Management

Pressure to look good; people pleasing; shape-shifting to get others’ approval; cover up mistakes (shame).

Healthy Alternative: Authenticity

Safety to be self; tolerance for disapproval from others; accountability; accepts mistakes as part of the process (separate from value of self)

Oversimplification

Black-and-white thinking; one right way to do things; judgment; simplistic; prone to extremes; need for certainty

Healthy Alternative: Tolerance for complexity and Paradox

Ability to see shades of gray, multiple ways to do or see things; can tolerate differences, dimensionality, ambiguity

Scarcity Thinking

Competitiveness; win-lose; resistance to change; fear of losing or loss, “not enough;” only one winner; hoarding resources

Healthy Alternative: Abundance thinking

Cooperative; synergistic; win-win; “plenty for everybody;” creative use of resources; multiple winners (and ways to “win”)

Negativity

Focus on flaws, lack, what’s not done, what’s not done right; pessimism; despair; “never good enough,” inner critic: loud and clear; fear

Healthy Alternative: Positivity

Focus on accomplishments, what’s done, what’s done right; optimism; “good enough for now;” inner critic: present but not in charge (can override, acknowledge, ignore); gratitude

Product Orientation

Focus on outcome; learning to know, finish, check something off list; resistance to refining, going back to improve something once it’s done; orientation: future, past

Healthy Alternative: Process orientation

Focus on experience; learning to learn, grow; persistence, willingness to go back and correct errors, refine product; orientation: present time

Conformity

Limited, rigid set of rules and tolerances; fear of rejection; acceptance of restrictions; willing to self-abandon if necessary

Healthy Alternative: Creativity

Flexibility; open to challenge status quo; resistance to restrictions; loss of self is more threatening than rejection

Adapted from The Perfection Deception by Dr. Jane Bluestein. (Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc., 2015), 55. Adapted from a chart in Creating Emotionally Safe Schools by Jane Bluestein, Ph.D. (Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc., 2001). These are the primary dysfunctional or harmful traditions that increase the likelihood of perfectionism. Other traditions mentioned in the original source, including reactivity (vs. proactivity) and win-lose power dynamics (vs. win-win interactions), seem to be have less influence in this instance.

© 2001, 2015, 2016 Dr. Jane Bluestein

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