Productivity Dysmorphia

Demanding too much of ourselves in the workplace and always feeling like we’re not trying hard enough is a common psychological reality. Find out more about this condition here.
Productivity Dysmorphia
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 07 June, 2023

Productivity dysmorphia prevents us from becoming aware of our achievements and competencies. Thanks to this debilitating filter, all our efforts fall on deaf ears, we never do enough, and what we do manage to do is defective or useless. This term defines a psychological phenomenon with which many workers identify.

Although productivity dysmorphia isn’t a diagnosable clinical disorder, it’s a condition that encompasses impostor syndrome, anxiety, and extreme perfectionism. The resulting feelings of guilt mean we gradually paint a negative picture of ourselves. If this sounds like you, read on to find out more.

This type of dysmorphia can be the result of having bosses who boycott our work.

Productivity dysmorphia

Today, dysmorphia is a common phenomenon. An article written by King’s College London (UK) describes this disorder. The sufferer exhibits obsessive concern regarding their body, seeing defects where there are none and building an altered and negative vision of their appearance.

This condition is also transferred to scenarios beyond the physical. For example, to the workplace. Productivity dysmorphia is defined as the perception that the individual isn’t performing adequately and that they must try harder. This turns their work into a Sisyphean task.

The term, productivity dysmorphia, was coined by the journalist Anna Codrea-Rado, to explain the disconnect that appears between what we’ve achieved and how we feel about it. We always feel elements of discouragement, frustration, and insufficiency. This is rather debilitating yet something that continues to occur.

How do you know if you’re suffering from productivity dysmorphia?

Imagine that you’re a teacher. You prepare your classes every day and try to present the information in a dynamic, fun, and meaningful way. Your students learn, enjoy your lessons, and demonstrate their competence in what you’ve taught them.

However, despite this, you go home every day feeling like a failure, thinking that you should be doing more. This is the curse of productivity dysmorphia. It’s built by the following characteristics:

  • Low self-esteem.
  • Constant self-criticism.
  • Negative self-concept.
  • Doubting your own talent.
  • High mental load and stress.
  • Inability to value your achievements.
  • Work is your only concern.
  • You don’t value your knowledge and successes of the past.
  • It’s impossible to enjoy your leisure time.
  • You feel inadequate.
  • You believe that, at some point, you’ll be fired.
  • Exhaustion prevents you from focusing on your family or other areas.
  • You need to invest more time than necessary at work.
  • You feel that, at any moment, a problem will appear at work because of you.

Productivity dysmorphia means you’re unable to rest or have any time for relax. In fact, you think you’re unproductive.

The causes of productivity dysmorphia

Dysmorphia in the productive field is a psychological reality of our time. Indeed, we live in a demanding society where self-esteem is eroded and self-image is violated.

Our environment and culture act as external pressures and mirrors in which we see ourselves as defective figures. We’re entities that almost never live up to what others expect. This condition is the result of many factors such as those discussed below.

Impostor syndrome

Impostor syndrome refers to the persistent feeling that you’re incompetent and that, sooner or later, others will discover that you’re a fraud. Even though there’s sufficient evidence to show that you’re skilled, competent, and capable.

An article published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology  states that we shouldn’t only consider aspects of the individual who suffers from imposter syndrome. Because it’s not only caused by low self-esteem. The environment also plays a part. Therefore, it’s possible that the people around the sufferer mediate their negative ideas. Impostor syndrome is, in reality, what often lies behind productivity dysmorphia.

Obsessive perfectionism

It’s okay to ask certain things of yourself, but it’s not a good idea to be extremely severe and critical. You don’t want to become a punching bag for your negative internal dialogue. Excessive perfectionism is exhausting. It undermines and boycotts you in everything you do.

For this internal voice, your worth, talents, or successes don’t matter. Your ‘hyperperfectionist’ mind sets personal standards that are so high, you’ll never reach them. This explains your feelings of exhaustion and constant dissatisfaction.

Anxiety disorder

Chronic anxiety can have a significant impact on productivity and your perception of your performance.

An article published in The Review of Clinical Psychology claims that generalized anxiety disorder occurs with the kind of constant worry that encourages negativity and dysregulated emotions. Sufferers of productivity dysmorphia often exhibit this psychological picture.

Productivity dysmorphia and social media

It’s important to emphasize the role of social media in the genesis of dysmorphia. It’s a condition in which the sufferer develops a dysfunctional, negative, and altered image of themselves.

Idealized visions of successful people achieving great things, brought to us by apps like Instagram, have a tremendous impact on many of us. They can create unrealistic expectations and foster a sense of constant inadequacy.

Hostile and critical work environments

Context is decisive in the evolution of psychological problems. For example, having an authoritarian boss or figures in authority who devalue your work and are critical has an influence. Indeed, if you work in a hostile environment, you end up doubting yourself a great deal.

Remember, your achievements don’t define you. You’re more than your job and the money you earn. Don’t base the vision you have of yourself solely on your work scenario.

Treating productivity dysmorphia

To treat this kind of dysmorphia, you have to know what triggers it. It can be caused by generalized anxiety disorder or high levels of stress due to poor working conditions. So, the same advice doesn’t work for everyone and not all of us have the same needs. However, you might want to consider the following:

  • Remember your past successes.
  • Celebrate your achievements.
  • Recognize everything you do well.
  • Strengthen your self-esteem and self-concept.
  • Set clear boundaries between your work and personal life.
  • Practice self-compassion and stop being your worst judge and enemy.
  • Rest. Give yourself some time to recover physically and mentally.
  • Lean on the people who love you and talk to them about your thoughts and concerns.
  • Evaluate your working conditions. They could be affecting your mental health.
  • Set realistic goals and don’t spend all your time at work. Practice good time management.
  • Practice self-care. Every day, you should have several hours of rest and leisure so you can disconnect.
  • Don’t link your self-concept exclusively to work. You’re more than the work you do.
  • Focus on new areas of personal growth. Sign up for courses, or practice sports. The goal is to take your mind off work.
  • Turn off extreme perfectionism. It’s enough to do well. Excessively striving to improve yourself every day will only make you suffer.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy are helpful and effective in treating productivity dysmorphia.

At certain times, everyone feels that they’re not productive enough. This might urge you to try and take on too much. That’s okay so long as it’s only occasionally and you don’t become obsessed. After all, work isn’t the only important thing in your life, there are other aspects that need your attention too.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.