The Underlying Toxicity of Perfectionism

The pursuit of utter perfection doesn’t really prevail. One might take pleasure in maintaining incredibly high standards, yet if you are one of those individuals who are obsessed with getting every last detail precisely right, it may backfire. At least once in our lives we’ve all felt the urge to be flawless and perfect. And besides, we live in a ferociously competitive culture. One in which productivity is glamorised and online influencers rule; overall, an ideal breeding environment for perfectionism. There really are expectations to be perfect wherever you take a gander: to have the perfect figure, a great intellect, the highest grades, the trendiest profession, and even a perfectly manicured Instagram page.

In Indian society, becoming a “perfectionist,” “successful person,” or “Type A” is virtually a symbol of pride. We respect individuals who can accomplish more than others, and our country’s rising “rise and grind” movement encourages that attitude even more. But, whenever the actual and perceived push from the outside world goes above basic drive and morphs into guilt, self-retribution, and the conviction that your worth as a human being is determined by the output you can do, there is a serious problem. A perfectionist is one that aims for a 11 out of 10 on every job or task. This is the one person that consistently does outstanding work, the one you can always rely on, and the one who never disappoints the team. This individual manages to keep on top of everything, never appears to sweat, and appears to have it all together at least on the exterior. However, wrongly assume that being flawless will guarantee adoration, acceptance, and confirmation of our value. The fact is that perfection does not exist; only the idea of perfection does. And pursuing a delusion is a sure way to go nowhere fast. In reality, perfectionists suffer a perplexing dilemma: they feel superior for possessing lofty ambitions yet inferior since they will never be achieved.

Younger folks appear to be internalising a dominant modern idea that everything, including themselves, has to be perfect. Perfectionism is on the rise, but this does not imply that each generation is growing more successful. It implies that we are becoming worse, sadder, and perhaps sabotaging our own capabilities. A healthy drive to accomplish something like a career, relationships, endeavour, or a specific grade will not be found if you peek inside the mind of a perfectionist. Rather, one may discover a gloomy, compulsive drive to perfect oneself to be flawless as a means of obtaining momentary emotional respite from gloomy, unpleasant sensations. Someone might even contend that genuine perfectionists aren’t even attempting to be ideal. They are apprehensive of not being good enough, and so this worry causes them to be judgemental of just about everything they accomplish. Failure equals insignificance in the eyes of the perfectionist.

Perfectionism is, at its foundation, an avoidance technique. It functions as a security guard, for whom the mission it is to keep negative feelings at away, mostly because they inflict pain or suffering. If the security officer performs their jobs effectively and keeps you reaching for the greatest peaks, then unpleasant feelings are buried behind mounds of work and do not have to be experienced. While this may have some benefits, unresolved emotions will always emerge in harmful ways.

The first study to evaluate perfectionism across generations, Thomas Curran and Andrew Hill’s meta-analysis of rates of perfectionism from 1989 to 2016, discovered substantial growth among the more recent undergrads in the US, UK, and Canada. In other words, the average student the year before was far more likely to be a perfectionist than a student in the 1990s or early 2000s. Increased professional and academic competitiveness, as well as the widespread influence of social media and the negative social comparisons it generates, are considered to have  played an important role. A 2019 survey of almost 40,000 university students discovered a 33% increase in perfectionism from 1989 to 2016.

Perfectionism is a self-defeating way to navigate the reality. It is based on a painful irony: making and acknowledging errors is an essential way of developing, learning, and being human but this not happen for perfectionists. It also improves jobs, relationship, and life in general. A perfectionist might make it more difficult to achieve their own ambitious goals by eliminating defects at all costs. But the disadvantage of perfectionism isn’t simply that it prevents you from being your most useful and efficient self. Perfectionism has been related to a slew of clinical problems. Perfectionism may become an incredibly poisonous mentality, causing despair and anxiety and paralysing individuals with dread.

According to the World Health Organization, an unprecedented percentage of youth is suffering from mental illness. Anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation are more prevalent today than they were a decade ago. Perfectionism, has been linked to an elevated risk of both suicidal thoughts and attempted suicides. Self-critical perfectionism has also been linked to an increased incidence of bipolar illness. According to several research, it may illustrate why patients with bipolar disorder also suffer anxiety. However, the negative effects of perfectionism do not end with mental health. According to some studies, perfectionists have higher blood pressure, and some experts have even connected the characteristic to cardiovascular illness. Furthermore, perfectionists have a more difficult time coping with physical sickness. One research reveals that the trait predicted untimely death among individuals with diabetes , and Professor Flett and his team discovered that patients with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or who’ve had a heart attack had a significantly tougher time healing. Perfectionism based on looks or size can contribute to obsessive compulsive mindset when it comes to nutrition, for example. Continuous yearning for perfection may therefore function as fuel to the fire whenever it comes to regulating intake of food, since deviations from stringent limits may be viewed as a failure.

Well-known researchers of perfectionism , clinical psychologists Dr. Paul Hewitt and Dr. Gordon Flett  have identified three major kinds of perfectionism as a result of their investigation. The first is ‘self-oriented,’ in which someone strives for perfection in oneself. Then there’s ‘other-oriented,’ which strives to hold people to rigorous expectations. Lastly, socially prescribed, which is motivated by a desire to meet the expectations of others.

The problem is that for perfectionists, performance is inextricably linked to their sense of identity. When they do not  achieve, they do not  simply fell sorry about themselves. They are ashamed of themselves. Paradoxically, perfectionism becomes a protective mechanism to keep guilt at bay: if you’re perfect, you cannot lose, and if you never mess up, there’s no shame. The quest of excellence becomes a vicious cycle – and, because perfection is unachievable, a futile one.

What can someone with perfectionist inclinations do to modify their behaviour, given that perfection is connected with bad outcomes? While individuals can sometimes be unwilling to let go of their perfectionist inclinations, psychologists point out that giving up on perfection does not imply a lack of achievement. In fact, since errors are a necessary component of learning and growing, accepting imperfection may benefit us in the long term. Developing a growth mindset, as psychologists call it, is one viable alternative to perfectionism. Stanford University researchers discovered that adopting a growth mindset is critical for learning from our mistakes. Those with growth mindsets, as opposed to someone with fixed mindsets, think they can improve their skills by learning from their failures. Self-compassion is yet another potential substitute to perfectionism. Consider how you would react to a good friend who committed an error to better comprehend self-compassion. You’d simply answer with love and empathy, understanding that your buddy was well-intentioned. The notion underlying self-compassion is that we must be nice to ourselves when we commit mistake, reminding ourselves that failures are a normal aspect of being human, and avoid becoming dominated by negative feelings. Cognitive behavioural therapy has also been proposed by psychologists as a means of assisting people in changing their ideas about perfectionism.

Certainly, stating you’re a perfectionist sounds great on paper, and while you are sitting for an interview. But think for yourself , is it really good ?

– Uttara Jantwal

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