Understanding the Link Between ADHD and Perfectionism
ADHD and perfectionism might seem like they couldn’t have less in common. Perfectionism is the inability to accept standards lower than perfect, while ADHD means struggles with procrastination, forgetfulness, and big emotions. Yet, somehow perfectionism and ADHD can find one another. And when combined, lead to increased anxiety and lower quality of life.
The thing is, perfectionism rarely leads to perfection. In fact, perfectionism often leads to the opposite: even more procrastination and even more difficulty getting started. The anxiety that is brought on by the mountain being way too high to climb would make anyone not want to get started. And when you don’t quite measure up to expectations, that perfectionism-induced anxiety leads to emotional tailspins.
But why exactly does perfectionism seem to emerge in adults with ADHD?
Three reasons Why You May Have ADHD and Perfectionism
1. Perfectionism as a coping skill related to Executive-Functioning struggles
Perfectionism isn’t just wanting to be perfect, it’s couched in the anxiety about living up to perfection. At the same time, ADHD is a disorder of executive functioning (including working memory and concentration), which causes an individual to make unintended mistakes. What seems like opposing psychological states can end up going hand in hand.
It’s very common for adults with ADHD to struggle with anxiety. Some studies indicate that 50% of adults with ADHD also qualify for an anxiety disorder. Other studies indicate that the anxiety stems from the ADHDer’s experiences with time blindness, procrastination, and worries about the stigma of ADHD. One way to cope with both the anxiety about making mistakes and the occurrence of actually making mistakes is to overcorrect and overestimate what is needed to complete a task. In other words, trying to be perfect. The problem is, perfectionism combined with low self-esteem can lead to a vicious cycle of taking on more to prove your worth while setting the bar so high you never feel good enough.
2. Your Childhood
Perfectionism can also be either conditioned or taught. In one scenario, perfectionistic parents (who can also have ADHD) often demand perfection from their kids. However, if you have ADHD as a child, extra triggers for excessive shame and worry when you don’t measure up to a parent’s expectations have an even more damaging impact. In another scenario, growing up in any sort of chaotic household can create perfectionism as a way to cope with instability or with an overly critical or neglectful parent. In either case, the result is intense self-blame and self-criticism, particularly when you fall short of perfection as an adult.
3. The Shame/Overcommitment Cycle
It’s not uncommon for adults with ADHD to overcommit. In a sense, it’s a way of apologizing for those missed questions on a quiz, the forgotten keys, and wallets, or the missed opportunities in life. Sort of like, “if I do enough, maybe I’ll be enough.” While this is common for many adults with ADHD, if it morphs into perfectionism, there is an endless amount of bars to meet and mountains to climb. And this just leads to more shame and more mountain climbing. However, true perfectionism is not a healthy form of self-improvement. It’s an unattainable goal and, in many cases, it can be an addictive way of managing shame.
The benefits of perfectionism can often be an illusion, as the overlooked costs slowly start to add up. The kicker to seeing the bigger picture is noticing what parts of life are being harmed by perfectionism. Is it family? Relationships? Mental health? Quality of life? At some point, perfectionism creates a debt. The key to balancing the checkbook? Self-compassion and boundaries. Both of which can be obtained by learning to value yourself enough to say no, in addition to validating and addressing the underlying feelings that started the cycle in the first place.
At Focused Mind ADHD Counseling, we offer adult ADHD treatment and anxiety treatment for ADHD. Often both are helpful for overcoming perfectionism and turning ADHD into a superpower. You can find answers to managing anxiety and ADHD while finding a path forward. An ADHD specialist would love to help you from our Columbus, OH-based therapy practice. To start your treatment journey, please follow these steps:
- Fill out the contact form to schedule a free 15-minute consultation
- Meet with an adult ADHD specialist.
- Overcome perfectionism. Turn ADHD into a superpower
Other Services Offered With Focused Mind ADHD Counseling
ADHD treatment in Columbus, OH isn’t the only service offered at our Columbus, OH-based counseling practice. Since ADHD impacts people in different ways, we offer a variety of services. We provide ADHD testing, adult ADHD treatment, counseling for men with ADHD, depression counseling for ADHD, and anxiety treatment for ADHD. Feel free to learn more by scheduling a consultation or visiting our blog!