What is Perfectionism?
Feeling the need to be perfect in life and in your academic studies can be extremely overwhelming. Studies have shown that the number of young people reporting the need to be perfect has been steadily and staggeringly increasing in recent years and that it affects men and women at nearly an equal rate.
At its basic definition, perfectionism is the need for flawlessness not only from yourself but from others as well. This obsession with success and a lack of error can have an overall negative effect on your happiness, mental health, and wellbeing.
Why do I feel the need to be perfect?
There are many factors that may contribute to a desire for perfection. Often, it is a mix of biological and environmental forces that lead a person towards an obsession with perfection; however, there are some factors that have been identified as potential triggers:
Influence from Others: If you experienced parents, coaches, or teachers that put a high level of importance on perfectionism in your early life, it is possible that you may carry that need to excel into adulthood as well. In addition to actual influences, you may have simply perceived the need to be perfect, and created a narrative in your life that you needed to uphold that perfection in order to feel worthy or loved.
Fear of Failure: Some people have a more developed fear of failure. This fear can become overwhelming and can make it seem as though any failure, regardless of the level of seriousness, is unacceptable and damaging. This can be extremely hard to deal with. If you are feeling this way, reach out to a mental health professional to talk about what you are experiencing.
Cultural Influences: Western culture often creates the impression that you have to be perfect at all times. Technology and social media provide a lens into the lives of others that make it difficult for individuals to not compare their life to. This comparison can often create a desire to want something better, something more, or to be perfect.
Potential Negative Effects
The tricky part about perfectionism is that at first, and maybe for some time, it can feel like a satisfying and even self-serving trait. For example, as a college student, your perfectionism may allow you to have an extremely impressive GPA and resume, thus landing you an impressive job after graduation. Once you graduate, that same perfectionism may allow you to climb the ranks at a job faster than your peers, while balancing hobbies that you excel in as well.
The problem arises when you become focused on perfectionism to the point of negative side effects. By then, however, it may feel like an ingrained part of your personality that is impossible to dismantle. Some of these negative effects include:
Anxiety: Fear surrounding failure can lead to serious feelings of anxiety in daily life. It is impossible to live without any error, and the desire to curate a flawless life can leave you with feelings of anxiety when you are unable to succeed to your standards.
Depression: No matter how you strive for perfection, mistakes and errors happen. It is all a part of life. If perfection becomes an important part of your identity and you feel as though you have failed, it could wreak havoc on your self-worth and leave you feeling depressed.
Physical Effects: Intense obsession with perfectionism has been shown to affect blood pressure, sleep hygiene, and other cardiovascular diseases due to stress.
Suicidal Ideation: In extreme cases, an obsession with perfection can lead to suicidal ideation. If there are outside factors that may be inhibiting you from reaching your level of perfection, you may be so distressed that you start to second guess the meaning of your very existence. If you are experiencing thoughts of wanting to die, reach out to a mental health professional or your campus safety office immediately.
There is no one size fits all cure for alleviating your need for perfection. Because there are so many influences and factors that may be pushing you towards the need for perfection, it can be difficult to isolate your triggers and begin to work on them.
Perfectionism is oftentimes a habit or thought process that has been built over many years and it can be especially difficult because of the positive effects it may have provided you over time. However, there are some coping strategies you can try to help ease your need for perfection. Remember, these will take practice, and try not to be too hard on yourself if it feels as though you are not changing immediately.
Allow Room for Mistakes: Work on examining your feelings and reactions, both mental and physical, around making mistakes. Mistakes are a natural experience in life, and allowing yourself to realize that there are often no catastrophic consequences from most mistakes can help retrain your brain.
Practice Empathy for Others: Allow room for error in others as you work on allowing it for yourself. Rethink your need for perfection from loved ones and coworkers, and try to work on empathy instead. Put yourself in their shoes, and think through why others’ mistakes affect you so greatly. Reframing these experiences consistently can help undo some of these negative thought patterns.
Reevaluate Goals and Make them More Reasonable: If you are a perfectionist, chances are that you have extremely difficult and potentially impossible goals. Reevaluate your personal goals, and try to make them as realistic as possible.
Reach Out to a Mental Health Professional: If you find that perfectionism is affecting you negatively and you cannot control it alone, don’t be afraid to seek help! Talking to a mental health professional about your obsession with perfection can be a wonderful way to figure out your triggers and practice acceptance.
Sandoiu, A. (2018, October 12). The effects of perfectionism on mental and physical health. Retrieved September 8, 2021, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323323#How-perfectionism-affects-our-overall-health
Smith, M. M., Sherry, S. B., Vidovic, V., Saklofske, D. H., Stoeber, J., & Benoit, A. (2019). Perfectionism and the Five-Factor Model of Personality: A Meta-Analytic Review. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 23(4), 367–390. https://doi.org/10.1177/1088868318814973
10 Ways to Overcome Perfectionism. (2021, April 22). Retrieved September 8, 2021, from https://oregoncounseling.com/article/10-ways-to-overcome-perfectionism/