UMD Counseling Center hosts workshop to help students overcome perfectionism

By Kelly Zheng

Students learned tactics to strive for progress instead of perfection in life at a University of Maryland Counseling Center workshop on April 9.

The “Overcoming Perfectionism” workshop was hosted by Dr. Kimberly Bethea, director of the Learning Assistance Service at the Counseling Center. The workshop was aimed at helping students set more reasonable goals rather than attempting to be perfect, Bethea said. Similar academic success seminars are given monthly by the center.

“We have heard from advisors that perfectionism is an issue for students and recommended we discuss this topic,” Bethea said. “We want to make sure that we’re fulfilling students’ needs and requests for this challenge.”

She told students about two types of perfectionism: adaptive and maladaptive. Adaptive is described as a normal, healthy type of perfectionism, while maladaptive is an unhealthy type of perfectionism that can lead to harsh self-criticism and self-sabotage. Bethea added that adaptive perfectionism means deriving satisfaction from hard-won achievements while tolerating imperfections.

Maladaptive perfectionism is made up of unrelenting behaviors toward extremely high standards, Bethea said. Some common behaviors include avoidance, correcting others, excessive checking, list making and procrastination, she said.

“Perfectionists often experience negative consequences for setting high demands, but they continue to go for them even though there’s a huge cost,” Bethea said.

Freshman computer science major Jasmine Soni said she identifies with many maladaptive behaviors. She said she struggles with decision making, self-doubt, giving up too soon, not knowing when to stop and even hoarding.

Perfectionism is most problematic to Soni in regard to school, chores, relationships and personal hygiene, she said. Perfecting her work has caused delays and interference with attempts to meet her standards.

“I’m always thinking and concerned about whether people like me or not,” Soni said. “I’m constantly replaying moments in my head trying to figure that out, and it has caused me a lot of stress and wasted time.”

Soni was not the only one who said they struggle with maladaptive behaviors. Junior journalism major Elie Francois said he does too.

Francois said he struggles with the typical maladaptive behaviors outlined by Bethea as well. He said he identifies with them in instances when he wants to be perfect, and ends up beating himself up when he does not live up to his high standards.

“Recently, I studied for a test and thought I did well, but I got a C instead,” he said. “I cried because I care a lot about my grades. I wondered if I did not work hard enough and [it] made me want to do better because I know I can.”

However, working hard for a perfectionist may mean procrastination, which leads to putting off assignments for fear it will not ever be done well, Bethea said.

Procrastination can be tackled in order to break the vicious cycle of perfectionism, she said. She told students to beware of their expectations, set reasonable goals and consider others who may be affected.

Students then developed a plan to implement changes toward these maladaptive behaviors during the workshop.

“The workshop gave me insight and helped me pinpoint my perfectionist tendencies,” Soni said. “I think the first and hardest step for me would be to catch myself when I want to be a perfectionist and stopping it.”

Bethea said the center does not follow up with students to see if they have changed their habits, however, it hopes that the workshop was meaningful enough to students to persuade behavior modifications or increase their use of counseling resources.

“One of my favorite quotes is ‘action expresses priorities’ because even as a perfectionist, it’s all about finding balance,” Bethea said. “Perfectionism is a process. You have to continually work on it to accept you don’t have to be perfect in every area.”

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