Pursuit of Perfection & Mental Health
Perfectionism is a term that refers to the pursuit of flawlessness. Perfectionists are people who have an excessively high standard for performance, and they can't be satisfied with anything less than perfection. This way of thinking is unrealistic, but it's also dangerous. Research links perfectionism to several mental health problems, including anxiety and depression, leading to physical health problems.
Perfectionism: An In-Depth Review of a Critical and Risky Habit
Perfectionism is a habit where someone pursues flawlessness. Perfectionists have high standards for their performance, and anything less than perfection is not good enough. This way of thinking is unrealistic and dangerous.
Hewitt and Fleet, authors of the Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology, Volume 3, define perfectionism as:
"Perfectionism is a broad and multifaceted personality construct that involves the requirement of perfection or the appearance of perfection for the self or for others."
Behaviors associated with perfectionism include:
- Setting excessively high standards for oneself and others
- Unrealistic expectations
- Perfectionism breeds anxiety and stress
- Fear of making mistakes
- Excessive self-criticism
- All-or-nothing thinking
- Comparing oneself to others
It's vital to note that having perfectionist traits and perfectionism are not the same. Perfectionism is a habit characterized by unhealthy and obsessive thinking and behavior. Perfectionists often have high standards for themselves and others, but they're also their own worst critics.
Perfectionism differs from striving for excellence. When you strive for greatness, you're motivated by a desire to improve. The fear of mistakes drives perfectionism. It's only temporary. Perfectionism is not sustainable in the long term because it's rooted in insecurity and self-doubt.
Many people think that perfectionism is a positive trait—after all, it's often associated with success. But perfectionism is a critical and risky habit. Perfectionists are never satisfied with their achievements, and they're always looking for ways to improve.
What Causes Perfectionism?
Childhood experiences shape our views of ourselves and the world. If you had a parent or caregiver who was very critical, perfectionism might be a way to protect yourself from feeling hurt or rejected. Perfectionism can also be a response to trauma or other stressful life events.
Perfectionism provides a sense of control and order. For example, children who grow up in alcoholic or similar homes with dysfunctional parents or other caregivers may develop perfectionism to control their environment. Young people that live with alcoholics or addicts often feel they have no control over their lives.
Perfectionism also runs in families. If you have a parent or other family member who is a perfectionist, you may be more likely to develop perfectionism yourself.
Although perfectionism helps children and young adults survive difficult situations, it can cause problems later in life. Psychologists link perfectionism to many mental health issues, including:
- Eating disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Problems with relationships
- Substance abuse
- Suicidal tendencies
Not all cases of perfectionism can be traced back to a broken home. People with anxiety and OCD may develop perfectionism to cope with their anxiousness. Perfectionism can also be self-protection. People teased or bullied as children may become perfectionists to avoid feeling that pain again—which ties into self-esteem.
Perfectionism and Self-Esteem
Self-esteem is a sense of self-worth or self-respect. It's our opinion of ourselves and our ability to do things well. People with high self-esteem feel good about themselves and see themselves positively. They're confident and believe they can achieve their goals.
Low self-esteem is often tied to perfectionism, which is a way of hiding flaws and insecurities. People with low self-esteem doubt their abilities and feel they're not good enough. They're hard on themselves and have difficulty accepting compliments.
Perfectionists are afraid of making mistakes because they think it will reflect poorly on them. They believe that they'll be seen as failures if they mess up. This fear can lead to avoidance behaviors, such as procrastination. Perfectionists may also have difficulty finishing tasks because they're never satisfied with the results.
How Does Perfectionism Harm Society?
Perfectionism is destructive to society because it causes stress and anxiety. Perfectionists may get more stressed out if they cannot do something perfectly or if things are not going their way. Perfectionism can also cause someone to feel like a failure in life and make them sad or upset most of the time.
Perfectionists harm the people around them.
Perfectionism and Parenting
For example, a perfectionist mother might put too much pressure on her kids to be perfect. This can lead to the kids feeling like they have to be perfect in everything they do and cause them a lot of stress. The mother might also get angry at her kids when they make mistakes, damaging their relationship.
As the children grow, they may carry these perfectionist tendencies into their own lives and relationships, further spreading the stress and anxiety caused by perfectionism.
Perfectionism in the Workplace
The impact of perfectionism goes beyond the home. A perfectionist boss might expect their employees to be perfect in everything they do in the workplace. This can lead to employees feeling stressed out and make them less productive. The boss might also get angry and lash out at employees when they make mistakes, damaging morale and creating a hostile work environment.
Perfectionism in Educational Settings
Perfectionism can also harm educational settings. Society is pushing an agenda of high-pressure testing for students in all grade levels. These tests are often used to determine college placement and can significantly impact a student's future.
The pressure to perform well on these tests can be very stressful for students and drive perfectionism by believing that they have to be perfect to succeed. This pressure is not just limited to tests.
Perfectionism can also be driven by the pressure to get good grades, be popular, or participate in extracurricular activities. Students might feel overwhelmed and stressed out because they desire to be perfect.
Perfectionism can also lead to cheating, as students try to find shortcuts to get ahead—which can backfire and lead to a more significant number of mental health problems.
How Perfectionism Harms the Overall Health of Society
Perfectionism harms society by causing stress and anxiety. It causes people to feel like failures and can make them unhappy. Perfectionists may get more stressed out if they cannot do something perfectly or if things are not going their way.
Stress, depression, and anxiety are incredibly harmful to society's overall health. They can lead to mental and physical health problems, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, and anxiety disorders.
Although it's not as critical as heart disease, stress plays a role in skin health. People with perfectionism may get acne, psoriasis, or eczema because of the pressure this type of thinking causes. Being a perfectionist causes unnecessary societal stress that is directly linked to skin breakouts, aging, and premature death.
Perfectionism is a public health emergency, and it's a problem that plagues our society. It's time to talk about it and work together to find solutions. Communities need to stop the perfectionism epidemic before it does any more damage.
Social Media and the Rise of Perfectionism
One of the significant contributors to the rise of perfectionism is social media. Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat have created a culture of comparison and competition. Now TikTok with instant video clips is adding to the pressure.
Perfectionism is often driven by the need to be liked and accepted. People constantly compare themselves to others and feel like they are not good enough. This can lead to a lot of anxiety and stress.
Social media platforms are designed to create a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out). People are constantly seeing what others are doing and where they are going. This can make them feel like they are not doing enough with their lives.
How to Repair Your Thinking and Stop Perfectionism
The first step to repairing your thinking is to realize your perfectionism. Notice when you are a perfectionist and what thoughts and emotions come up for you.
These may include:
- -I need to be perfect to be loved.
- -I need to be perfect to be successful.
- -I need to be perfect to be happy.
- -I need to be perfect to avoid criticism.
- -I need to be perfect to avoid failure.
- -I need to be perfect to avoid making mistakes.
Perfectionism is often based on irrational beliefs. For example, you might believe that if you are not perfect, you will be a failure in life. Once you realize your perfectionism, you can challenge your perfectionistic thoughts.
Question these beliefs and look at the evidence. Are there people in your life who are successful and not perfect? What does the research say about perfectionism?
Here are some ways to challenge these harmful beliefs about yourself.
Perfectionism is Love:
People love you despite your faults. No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes.
Perfectionism is Success:
There is no evidence that perfectionism leads to success. It may lead to the opposite.
Perfectionism is Happiness:
Research shows that perfectionism doesn't make you happy. Instead, it can cause extreme unhappiness.
Perfectionism is Avoiding Criticism:
No one can avoid criticism. Perfectionism doesn't make you immune to it. Also, not all forms of criticism are harmful.
Perfectionism is Avoiding Failure:
Failure is a learning step in life. You cannot avoid it. Perfectionism will not protect you from it.
Perfectionism is Avoiding Making Mistakes:
Mistakes are a part of life. You cannot avoid making them. Perfectionism will not protect you from errors, but it can cause you to make more mistakes. The goal is not to be perfect but to be the best you can be.
Perfectionism is not achievable. Aim for excellence instead of perfection. Excellence is a realistic goal that you can achieve. Think about what you need to do to be excellent. What steps do you need to take? How can you improve?
Focus on the process, not the outcome. Perfectionism is often about the result. It's about getting it perfect, no matter what the cost. Excellence is about the process. It's about doing your best and enjoying the journey.
Perfectionism is a tiresome habit to break. Make a plan to change your perfectionism.
Now that you know how to identify and challenge your negative beliefs that lead to perfectionism, it's time to counteract them with realistic statements and goals.
Yes, it will take time and effort to change your thinking.
Everyone wants to be perfect. The truth is—it's not a realistic goal. But it's worth it to achieve a more balanced and healthy outlook on life.
Steps to Turn Unrealistic Goals into Obtainable Achievements
You can take several steps to turn an unrealistic goal into something attainable. The first step is to accept that no one is perfect, and that's okay. Use this list to help:
Acknowledge That Your Goal Is Unrealistic
It's not okay to have goals you'll never accomplish. You're one step closer to setting realistic goals as soon as you accept that.
Determine What You Need To Take To Make Your Goal More Realistic
You need to put in the work to make your goal more realistic. This might include doing research, taking classes, or learning new skills.
Make a Plan To Change Your Thinking and Achieve Your New, Realistic Goal
You need to change how you think about your goal to achieve it. This includes countering your perfectionistic thoughts with more realistic ones.
Set a Timeframe For Achieving Your Goal
It's essential to have a timeline for achieving your goal. This will help you stay on track and motivated.
Celebrate Your Progress
You should celebrate every step you take toward your goal. This will help you stay positive and motivated.
Make Adjustments As Needed
As you work toward your goal, you might need to make adjustments. This is normal and to be expected. Don't give up if you hit a snag. Just keep going.
Perfectionism is an unrealistic goal that can only lead to disappointment. Aim for excellence instead. You can achieve greatness by focusing on the process, not the outcome. Take steps to change your perfectionistic thinking, and you'll be well on your way to achieving your goals. Perfectionism might seem like a daunting challenge, but you can do it! Just take it one step at a time.