Perfectionism does not necessarily sound like an undesirable trait as it is desirable and commendable to strive to do our best in all facets of our life, from work to relationships. Often, however, perfectionism can give rise to an intense sense of pressure that could affect our psychological well being. Perfectionism can increase anxiety and depression in individuals and therefore many attributes it to have a negative impact on mental health. A study recently conducted by Thomas Curran, from the University of Bath, and Andrew Hill, of York St. John University, both in the United Kingdom, defined three types of perfectionism:

  • Self-oriented, which is when “individuals attach irrational importance to being perfect and hold unrealistic expectations of themselves”
  • Socially prescribed, which is when “individuals believe their social context is excessively demanding, and that they must display perfection to secure approval.”
  • Other-oriented, which is when “individuals impose unrealistic standards on those around them]

Millennials, specifically, are at high risk for having to strive for a perfectionistic mindset, leading these young minds to be at an increased risk for depression and anxiety. Factors that put this generation at risk for perfectionism include the ever-higher educational demands and the pressure to find a high-paying job. Social media also seems to be an essential factor when it comes to millennials’ anxiety about body image and social integration, as unrealistic representations push the younger generations to seek unachievable, perfect bodies and increase the individuals’ sense of isolation. The need for a perfect body, perfect lifestyle, ideal job, and perfect relationship can drive individuals to practice unhealthy and dangerous habits that can worsen their mental health.

Anxiety and stress stems from perfectionism

The anxiety and stress that stem from perfectionism usually results in trying to live up to an internal ideal. Perfectionism can also be motivated by fear, such as worrying about how others perceive you. For individual battling anxiety, this may translate into distress about your symptoms, which you may view as shortcomings by which others negatively evaluate you. These beliefs and self-doubts can contribute to avoidance behaviors, loneliness and isolation, and even depression. Perfectionism is associated with negative thinking. For example, you may jump to conclusions and assume that others won’t accept you if they knew about your condition. Perhaps thoughts of self-blame have you believing that it’s your fault that you cannot achieve exceptionally high standards you’ve set out for yourself. Negative thinking and perfectionism can deplete your self-worth and make you mistakenly feel unsuccessful.

According to University of Western Ontario researcher Martin M. Smith, “It’s important to identify perfectionism because a lot of subtypes fly under the radar. Perfectionists won’t tell people that they are distressed because they do not want people to see them as flawed, weak or otherwise, imperfect. This results in mental illness or suicide that occurs ‘without warning’ because although the individual has been depressed or anxious for a long time, they have worked very hard to it hidden from view. A huge identifying factor of perfectionism is someone who strived to maintain an image of perfection to others, someone you have never seen sick or grumpy”.

Becoming more imperfect as a way to heal

So how can we ditch this strive for negative perfectionism and replace it with the desire to attain greatness while simultaneously accepting our flaws and failures?

  • Stop comparing yourself to others: No matter what there will always be someone better off then you and you will still be better off than someone else. Comparing yourself others only brings self-doubt and the need to become more perfect.
  • Practice gratitude: Be aware and be thankful for the little things in life.
  • Understand and recognize which aspects of perfectionism you display: Are you overly organized, a workaholic, or obsessed with your appearance?
  • Force yourself to be less perfect: If you spend five hours getting ready in the morning, force yourself to minimize your morning routine. This type of exposure therapy works because it challenges the thoughts that perfection is a requirement. After being exposed to imperfections, you will soon realize that your imperfections do not have the dire consequences as you assumed.