Studies suggest perfectionism leads to depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Perfection is, of course, impossible to achieve,and the constant pursuit of it places a lot of pressure on people that can affect all areas of their lives. The trait causes an individual to focus on avoiding failure rather than achieving success. Though society still places a lot of weight on perfecting oneself, there is a big difference between striving for success and demanding perfection.
Perfectionism is a personality trait that exists on a continuum: there are two extremes, and most people fall somewhere in the middle. There are also pros and cons to being a perfectionist. While these individuals might do their best and work hard, they are also more likely to be self-critical and judge themselves and others harshly.
A perfectionist is driven by internal pressures to avoid failure, though there is a social aspect to these drives, as well. There has been an increase in perfectionism in young adults over the past three decades that experts attribute to greater competition both academically and professionally and the prevalence of social media. The drive to be perfect is often the result of pressure placed on children by their parents or other authority figures when they are quite young.
Perfectionists often think in black and white, all or nothing. If something is not perfect, it is a disaster. They may also act in extremes and have trouble completing tasks because they are so focused on getting everything exactly right and making it better. For a perfectionist, self-worth depends on not just accomplishments but other people's reactions to those accomplishments. If they think they may not be the best at something, they put off doing it and fixate on what they see as their mistakes.
Perfectionism also affects relationships with others. Because they need everything to be perfect, perfectionists do not trust other people to get work done correctly and have a hard time delegating or working equally on group projects. Perfectionists can be very demanding of others and have high expectations, but they are often seen as control freaks who try to micro-manage.
Perfectionism is not the same as seeking out success. A perfectionist believes that making mistakes is not acceptable and that making them means they are less successful. They may have low self-esteem, as they never think that what they are doing is good enough. On the other hand, someone driven to succeed sets realistic, achievable goals and can celebrate their accomplishments and what they learn from their mistakes. Most experts agree that this is a much healthier approach.
Research indicates perfectionism in young adults has increased significantly in three areas. Self-oriented perfectionism (placing unrealistic expectations on oneself), other-oriented perfectionism (placing unrealistic expectations on others), and socially prescribed perfectionism (feeling unrealistic expectations put in place by others). From 1989 to 2016, self-oriented perfectionism increased by 10 percent, other-oriented by 16 percent, and socially-prescribed by 33 percent.
Many of the health issues that stem from perfectionism occur because perfection is impossible. Unrealistic expectations lead to frustration, procrastination, and low-self esteem. Perfectionists are more likely to experience anxiety and depression because they rarely feel a true sense of accomplishment or satisfaction and believe they will never be good enough.
While it may seem that perfectionism would increase performance in the workplace,this is not the case. Perfectionism has strong ties to poor mental well-being and burn out, and this applies both to perfectionists themselves and workplaces that demand perfection from their employees. Researchers stress that managers should focus on encouraging perfectionists to set goals for activities outside of work to help manage stress. They should also clearly communicate that mistakes are ok.
Perfectionists can improve their well-being by actively trying to overcome the idea that they need to be perfect. One exercise that may be helpful is to face fears about being imperfect. Ask, "what would happen if I am not perfect?" Then, focus on the reality of these fears. Take some time to recognize positive characteristics instead of focusing on external validation, and try to set more realistic goals.
Part of coping with perfectionism is learning how to work with others. Try sharing thoughts and goals with friends and coworkers who are not perfectionists to get feedback on how realistic those thoughts and goals are. Accept others' mistakes and let go of feeling responsible for other people's actions so delegating comes easier.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.