According to a study by psychologists Thomas Curran and Andrew Hill, perfectionism increased 33 percent between 1989 and 2016 among the 40,000 college students they researched.
Particularly among millennials, perfectionism is on the rise. Why? Some say social media is to blame. Others say it’s the increasing “meritocracy,” a social system where advancement is based on performance and achievement.
What causes it?
Research suggests that some amount of perfectionism is genetic, but this trait can also be attributed to family environment and social environment.
Why is it harmful?
In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Dr. Brené Brown writes, “Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment and shame.”
Perfectionism is damaging because it promotes an unachievable ideal that inevitably leads to feelings of disappointment and defeat. Studies identify a link between perfectionism and depression, anxiety, eating disorders and other mental health issues. It also leads to procrastination because, after all, we can’t fall short when pursuing a goal if we don’t try in the first place.
What are some ways to battle perfectionism?
- Aim for growth instead of perfection. Get real about your expectations. Is it truly necessary for your home to be spotless in case your in-laws stop by? Or is it just a rule you’ve created for yourself that doesn’t really serve you.
- Weigh the pros and cons. Are your perfectionistic standards leading you to procrastinate? Are they causing you unnecessary anxiety and stress? Are they requiring more and more of your time? Are they aggravating your loved ones, co-workers and friends?
- Beware of the “all-or-nothing” thinking trap. Perfectionists tend to think in terms of black or white. The dinner party was either fabulous or terrible. Thinking in that way is usually unrealistic. Instead, try thinking in terms of a spectrum. “The caterer showed up late, but the guests still enjoyed themselves and the party was generally a lot of fun.”
- Experiment. Test whether your perfectionistic thoughts are accurate by carrying out small experiments. For example, if you tend to proofread unimportant emails for 10 minutes, try hitting send without checking for errors. If you don’t experience any negative consequences, you’ll learn that you’ve overinflated the importance of sending a “perfect” email.
If you need support in tackling perfectionism, therapy at Travco Behavioral Health can help. Contact us today!