LivingThis is how being a perfectionist affects your health

This is how being a perfectionist affects your health

Saying we’re perfectionists might sound great in a job interview, right? But does striving for perfection make us feel good about ourselves? Many studies show that constantly chasing the spectrum of perfection can seriously harm our mental health and well-being.

The risk of aspiring to be perfect

We set out to carry out a task and begin by creating the initial expectation of perfection for our goal. Then we forget something as basic as the limited time we have to dedicate to it, and our expectation of perfection grows as we become more thorough. Ultimately, such unrealistic expectations weigh so heavily on us that we are unable to begin which, in turn, feeds a harsh inner voice that lecture us for procrastinating or wanting to be something that you are not. It is the pattern of toxic perfectionism .

For many people, dealing with the sabotage of perfectionism can be very difficult.

What exactly is perfectionism?

Experts tend to define perfectionism as “a combination of excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations.” However, there are more nuances to this definition.

Gordon Flett (University of York in Ontario, Canada) and Paul Hewitt (University of British Columbia, Canada) are two of the leading authorities in the field of perfectionism, who have studied this topic for decades. Together, the two psychologists defined the three main facets of perfectionism in a landmark study they published nearly three decades ago. They say there is “self-oriented perfectionism, other-oriented perfectionism, and socially prescribed perfectionism.”

How does perfectionism affect our overall health?

Perfectionism can seriously affect our mental and physical health. In a recent study carried out by Thomas Curran, a professor in the Department of Health at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom, and Andrew P. Hill, of the University of St. John in York, also in the United Kingdom, the authors explain that socially prescribed perfectionism is the “most debilitating” of the three forms.

In socially prescribed perfectionism, “individuals believe that their social context is excessively demanding, that others judge them harshly, and that they must show perfection to ensure approval.”

Anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts are just some of the mental health problems that specialists have repeatedly linked to this form of perfectionism.

An older study, for example, found that more than half of the people who died by suicide were described by loved ones as “perfectionists.” Another study found that more than 70% of young people who died by suicide had a habit of creating “extremely high” expectations of themselves.

The young, the most affected

Toxic perfectionism seems to hit young people especially hard. According to recent estimates, nearly 30% of undergraduate students experience symptoms of depression, and perfectionism has been widely associated with these symptoms.

These trends have increased in recent decades, especially in English-speaking cultures. Researchers Curran and Hill studied more than 40,000 American, Canadian and British college students and found that in 1989-2016, the proportion of people who exhibited perfectionism traits increased by as much as 33%.

“Self-oriented perfectionism”, which occurs when “individuals attach an irrational importance to perfection, have unrealistic expectations of themselves and are punitive in their self-evaluations”, is linked to clinical depression and eating disorders and premature death between university students and young people, the authors state.

Reference: Curran, T., & Hill, AP (2017, December 28). Perfectionism Is Increasing Over Time: A Meta-Analysis of Birth Cohort Differences From 1989 to 2016.

Psychological Bulletin. Advance online publication. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/bul0000138

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