Monday, July 26, 2010

The Problem of Perfectionism: Part 2

Last week, I talked about the problem of perfectionism and this week, I want to give you some practical tools for overcoming it.  There are a number of ways to begin to break the cycle of perfectionism:

· Knowing is half the battle: If you find yourself identifying with some of these symptoms, that’s the first step. Awareness is necessary in order to begin to change.

· Stop worrying and start doing: Many times, it is taking that first small step that seems to be an insurmountable task. Usually, once a task is started, much of the anxiety and worry decreases.

· Start small: Break the task into “bite size” pieces. This will actually help you to “stop worrying and start doing”, and makes the task as a whole more manageable and less overwhelming. If your challenge is beginning, convince yourself to sit down for 20 minutes rather than the entire three hours that the task will take to complete.

· Encourage acceptance of limitations, performance, and mistakes: Perfection is an impossible goal. There will always be areas of possible improvement, and there will be days when “good enough” is often “more than okay”.

· Be mindful of the conversations in your head: Our self-talk contributes to anxiety and depression and the internal drive for perfection more than we often realize. If the discussions in your head suggest that your entire self-worth (or my future, etc.) is based on how well you complete a task, your internal dialogue needs to be adjusted.

· Ask yourself, “Is it worth this amount of effort?”: Put your tasks into perspective. Is the paper that may be worth 10% of my grade really worth the significant number of hours I have already put into it? The effort put out should match the significance of the task at hand.

· Increase mindfulness: Finally, there is a great deal of talk about the benefits of mindfulness. Mindfulness allows us to be present and in the moment, less worried about yesterday (and the mistakes of the past) and tomorrow (and the fears about what may or may not happen). Being mindful will allow you to focus on the process rather than the outcome. Increasing mindfulness will help you begin, accept your limitations, and enjoy the process.

Perfectionism at it’s best may help you get the job done…eventually…but at it’s worst can contribute to depression, anxiety, and failure, and make the process of completing even a simple task much more difficult than it needs to be.

Dr. Nyaka Niilampti is a licensed psychologist at Southeast Psych who specializes in performance enhancement, as well as the treatment of anxiety and depression in teens and adults.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Problem of Perfectionism: Part 1

Today’s society continues to demand increasingly high standards in virtually every arena. Unfortunately, we often interpret “achieving excellence” as “it must be perfect”. While maintaining a high standard is important, when it becomes confused with perfectionism it actually fails to lead to the desired consequences of success. The idea of achieving perfection is a goal that is impossible to meet, and the more we demand perfection from ourselves, the more the “finish line” moves, and the more overwhelming the task becomes.

It can be difficult to find the line between ‘perfectionism’ and ‘excellence’, and healthy motivation and striving. Burns (1980) defines a perfectionist as someone “whose standards are beyond reach or reason”, and “who strain compulsively and unremittingly toward impossible goals and who measure their own worth entirely in terms of productivity and accomplishment”. For perfectionists, thoughts and behaviors may be maintained by a number of factors, including fear of failure, inadequacy, or fear of disapproval and disappointing others. One way of locating that line is by asking yourself: (1) Is my goal attainable? (2) Are my beliefs in my ability to do this accurate? (3) Am I able to adjust my standards when necessary?

Perfectionism may look different in different individuals. For some, it is the attitude that “I’ll do it by myself…because no one will be able to do it as well as I can”. Other individuals may not take risks or try new things because they may not be good at it, while others become chronic procrastinators. Perfectionism may also look like overcompensating, excessive checking and seeking reassurance from others, difficulties making decisions, and avoidance of some activities and situations all together. The struggle to be perfect makes it difficult to recover from mistakes, and often leads to social and performance anxiety, depression, anger, and/or low motivation. It can also contribute to body image problems and eating disorders. 

Next week, I'll give you seven ways to break the cycle of perfectionism.

Dr. Nyaka Niilampti is a licensed psychologist at Southeast Psych who specializes in performance enhancement, as well as the treatment of anxiety and depression in teens and adults.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Importance of Early Diagnosis for Autism

by Lauren King, Psy.D.

1 in 110 children have Autism based on a report in December of 2009 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)  Currently there is not a single known cause for Autism, although many theories are being investigated. Additionally, there is not a “cure” for Autism at the present time. Early intervention and diagnosis are the best tools at our disposal. Research reveals repeatedly that early treatment for Autism makes the biggest difference. When therapy is introduced at an early age, due to the brain’s plasticity (ability to change), the child is likely to progress more than if their therapy starts at a later age. 

Obviously, no matter what the age, children can still change and make progress. The issue is really that we now know the earlier the therapy, the more likely it is to have a large impact on the child’s life. For example, research shows that children who are provided intervention before 3-years-old are impacted more than children provided therapy after 5-years-old (Harris & Handleman, 2000). Research also consistently shows that diagnosis of Autism prior to 24 months is not as reliable as it is after 24 months because it can be easily confused with other developmental problems (Lord, 1995). However, some children with more clear markers are diagnosed at earlier ages.  

In order to access early intervention for children with Autism, a prompt diagnosis is needed. If you are concerned about Autism Spectrum behaviors in your child, the first step is a thorough assessment.  Oftentimes, the signposts of Autism are the lack of typically developing behaviors such as coordinating attention between people and objects, sharing emotions with others, following the point or gaze of another person, playing symbolically, using appropriate gestures, and having appropriate language development (Woods & Wetherby, 2003). However, these behaviors can also be signals of other developmental problems besides Autism, which is why it is important to have a professional in the field of Autism conduct a full assessment.  The assessment should include recommendations on where and how to access early intervention for your child. At southeast Psych, we perform such assessments, and we are passionate about getting families in touch with the services and support they need following their testing.  

Dr. Lauren King is a therapist at Southeast Psych who specializes in working with children with autism spectrum disorders and their families.  She also has a specialty in the treatment of eating disorders.  You can contact her directly at  


Harris, S.L., & Handleman, J.S. (2000). Age and IQ at intake as predictors of placement for young children with autism: A four to six year follow-up. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 30, 137-143.
Lord, C. (1995). Follow-up of two-year-olds referred for possible autism. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychology & Psychiatry & Allied Disciplines, 36, 1365-1382.
Woods, J. J., & Wetherby, A. M. (2003). Early identification of and intervention for infants and toddlers who are at risk for autism spectrum disorder. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 34, 180-193.