Many of us believe perfectionism is a positive. But researchers are finding that it is nothing short of dangerous, leading to a long list of health problems – and that it’s on the rise.
In one of my earliest memories, I’m drawing. I don’t remember what the picture is supposed to be, but I remember the mistake. My marker slips, an unintentional line appears and my lip trembles. The picture has long since disappeared. But that feeling of deep frustration, even shame, stays with me.
More often than I’d like to admit, something seemingly inconsequential will cause the same feeling to rear its head again. Something as small as accidentally squashing the panettone I was bringing my boyfriend’s family for Christmas can tumble around in my mind for several days, accompanied by occasional voices like “How stupid!” and “You should have known better”.
Falling short of a bigger goal, even when I know achieving it would be near-impossible, can temporarily flatten me. When an agent told me that she knew I was going to write a book someday but that the particular idea I’d pitched her didn’t suit the market, I felt deflated in a gut-punching way that went beyond disappointment. The negative drowned out the positive. “You’re never going to write a book,” my internal voice said. “You’re not good enough.” That voice didn’t care that this directly contradicted what the agent actually said.
That’s the thing about perfectionism. It takes no prisoners. If I’ve struggled with perfectionism, I’m far from alone. The tendency starts young – and it’s becoming more common. Thomas Curran and Andrew Hill’s recent meta-analysis of rates of perfectionism from 1989 to 2016, the first study to compare perfectionism across generations, found significant increases among more recent undergraduates in the US, UK and Canada. In other words, the average college student last year was much more likely to have perfectionistic tendencies than a student in the 1990s or early 2000s.
“As many as two in five kids and adolescents are perfectionists,” says Katie Rasmussen, who researches child development and perfectionism at West Virginia University. “We’re starting to talk about how it’s heading toward an epidemic and public health issue.”
The rise in perfectionism doesn’t mean each generation is becoming more accomplished. It means we’re getting sicker, sadder and even undermining our own potential.
‘My life has been nothing but a failure,’ perfectionist Claude Monet once said. He often destroyed paintings in a temper – including 15 meant to open an exhibition.
Perfectionism, after all, is an ultimately self-defeating way to move through the world. It is built on an excruciating irony: making, and admitting, mistakes is a necessary part of growing and learning and being human. It also makes you better at your career and relationships and life in general. By avoiding mistakes at any cost, a perfectionist can make it harder to reach their own lofty goals.
But the drawback of perfectionism isn’t just that it holds you back from being your most successful, productive self. Perfectionistic tendencies have been linked to a laundry list of clinical issues: depression and anxiety (even in children), self-harm, social anxiety disorder and agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, binge eating, anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, insomnia, hoarding, dyspepsia, chronic headaches, and, most damning of all, even early mortality and suicide.
“It’s something that cuts across everything, in terms of psychological problems,” says Sarah Egan, a senior research fellow at the Curtin University in Perth who specialises in perfectionism, eating disorders and anxiety. “There aren’t that many other things that do that.
“There are studies that suggest that the higher the perfectionism is, the more psychological disorders you’re going to suffer.”
Culturally, we often see perfectionism as a positive. Even saying you have perfectionistic tendencies can come off as a coy compliment to yourself; it’s practically a stock answer to the “What’s your worst trait?” question in job interviews. (Past employers, now you know! I wasn’t just being cute).
This is where perfectionism gets complicated – and controversial. Some researchers say there is adaptive, or ‘healthy’ perfectionism (characterised by having high standards, motivation and discipline) versus a maladaptive, or ‘unhealthy’ version (when your best never seems good enough and not meeting goals frustrates you).
In one study of more than 1,000 Chinese students, researchers found that gifted students were more perfectionistic in the adaptive ways. (Maladaptive perfectionists, on the other hand, were more likely to be non-gifted). And while research shows that maladaptive attributes like beating yourself up for mistakes or feeling like you can’t live up to parental expectations make you more vulnerable to depression, some other studies have shown that ‘adaptive’ aspects like striving for achievement have no effect at all or may even protect you.
Perfectionism ups the risk of binge eating, depression and other problems.
Constantly striving to lead a blameless life increases the risk of death very imperfect results at first. Experts in perfectionism has recently called for an Association for Psychological Science Convention in Boston to present research on perfectionism and its health effects, ranging from loss of self esteem and resistance to stress and risk death.
It may even harm to cope effectively with crisis situations. “Even if these standards are incredibly high self-imposed perfectionistic the true evil to abandon the high self-expectations of performance, or solve more realistic standards, even in times of serious emergencies requiring them to act quickly, “says Prem Fry, PhD, professor of psychology at Trinity Western University in British Columbia.
Details: At the convention, researchers specializing in behavior perfectionist shared their research, including Fry, whose recent study of seniors found a reduced rate of 51 percent in life expectancy compared perfectionists non-perfectionists. other health problems were also associated with perfectionism. Other researchers have linked perfectionism of binge eating, hoarding, anxiety, substance abuse, and increased risk of oxidative and nitrosative stress, which damage cells and inflammation, leading to a series of serious health problems.
The good news is that not all features perfectionists “means bad news. Some of the other work of Fry, published earlier this year found that perfectionists who live with type 2 diabetes tend to have better control and monitor their condition. “Compared to non-perfectionists, they followed the treatment in greater depth and, therefore, lived a healthier life and more.”
What this means: Fry notes that once the drive for perfectionism is gained, it is not easy to kick. It is also important to note that while perfectionism is limited to one or two areas of your daily tasks, it could provide positive effects on self-esteem and self-esteem, says Fry. “However, it is deadly to aspire to be perfect in all areas of its operation,” she said. The key is to delegate responsibility to others for minor tasks that take a long time. Here’s how to ID and help a perfectionist:
Know the types and signs.
True perfectionists are generally still not satisfied with the performance. Fry said the following signs are frequently observed in children of perfectionism, men and women:
1. Shows the excessive focus on small daily tasks
2. Concerns about the approval of others
3. Fair request for an extension of time
4. Worries too much to be a disappointment for others
5. Over time, the feature can be identified by excessive levels of anxiety, depression and feelings of failure (even if the person is talented and competent).
Other types of perfectionism include “socially prescribed perfectionists,” Fry said people who carry around the notion that others expect them to be perfect and excel. Parents can instill that in children and young adults, and expectations of bosses can make to this form of perfectionism in adults.
“Perfectionists Other-oriented” have high expectations not only for themselves, they generally expect the same from others, too. “Those who subscribe to all three characteristics of thought perfectionists are in a permanent state stress. In such cases, perfectionism can lead to many stress-induced physical problems and sometimes to other mental health problems such as depression, loss of appetite, headaches, anxiety, social alcoholism, and increased risk of overall psychopathology, including suicidal motivation, “said Fry. To limit your perfectionist tendencies:
Although Fry notes that the side of perfectionism involves positive qualities as being more conscientious, diligent, responsible, and accountable, it also warns that perfectionists need to set limits. “Rigid perfectionist expectations of others are likely to turn against productivity own perfectionist and could very likely inhibit the productivity of others under their control and surveillance,” she said, indicating that people with this problem to learn to set limits, and select one or two areas where they are perfectionists. For example, while it is good for bridge engineers and surgeons to engage in perfectionism at work to keep people safe, these same people have no need to seek perfection when folding laundry or playing in a charity softball tournament.
Although perfectionism is a trait that is hard to shake, researchers have found hope in a type of counseling called cognitive-behavioral therapy, in which a therapist will focus on how your thoughts, and not forces External affect your condition. Depression or anxiety medicine can be prescribed in more severe cases, but you can try natural remedies, such as stress reduction based on consciousness, before moving on to pills.