Is your depression masquerading as perfectionism?

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a blog post about perfectionism…

Many writers tell me that their biggest problem is perfectionism. They want to be able to write something perfectly and this challenge/fear/obstacle prevents them from writing at all.

I’ve written about perfectionism before and even done a video on it, but I recently encountered an interesting blog post by American psychologist Margaret Rutherford who has written a book on the topic under the title Perfectly Hidden Depression.

Her theory? She believes that some people with perfectionism are actually depressed, even though this depression might not appear on any of the standard depression tests.

Rutherford has identified 10 traits that show up in the behaviour of people who exhibit signs of this syndrome:

  • You are highly perfectionistic, fuelled by a constant, critical inner voice of intense shame or fear.
  • You demonstrate a heightened or excessive sense of responsibility and look for solutions.
  • You have difficulty accepting and expressing painful emotions, remaining more analytical or ‘in your head’.
  • You discount, dismiss or deny abuse or trauma from the past, or the present.
  • You worry a great deal (but hide that habit) and avoid situations where you’re not in control.
  • You are highly focused on tasks and others’ expectations, using accomplishment as a way to feel validated. Yet as the last accomplishment fades, new pressure assumes itself, and any success is discounted.
  • You have an active and sincere concern for the wellbeing of others, while allowing few (if any) into your inner world.
  • You hold a strong belief in ‘counting your blessings’ and feel that any other stance reflects a lack of gratitude.
  • You have emotional difficulty with personal intimacy but demonstrate significant professional success.
  • You might have accompanying mental health issues that involve anxiety and control issues, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic and/or eating disorders.

It is very difficult to write if you are struggling with perfectionism. If more than three or four of Rutherford’s 10 traits strike you as true for you, be sure to get some psychological help. At the very least, check out her book.

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