When I wrote last week’s post about why I feel like I’m always playing catch up, I thought a lot about perfectionism. It’s not something that crosses my mind often, but when I have time to reflect on how I treat myself, that word comes up. When I was growing up, no one ever made a connection between perfectionism and mental health. Perfectionism was a personality trait, and some people had it and others didn’t. But the more I learn about mental health, the more I’ve learned that it’s not so black and white. It’s always existed, but perfectionism effects our mental health in very unique ways in 2021 – and that’s what I want to talk about today.
Before we continue, what do we mean when we talk about perfectionism? Broadly speaking, perfectionism is when someone creates an unrealistic expectation for things to be perfect in everything they do. To go one step further, Psychology Today actually says that this can manifest in different ways:
Self-oriented perfectionism is imposing an unrealistic desire to be perfect on oneself. Other-oriented perfectionism means imposing unrealistic standards of perfection on others. Socially-prescribed perfectionism involves perceiving unrealistic expectations of perfection from others.Psychology Today
Even though perfectionism isn’t diagnosed as a form of mental illness and it’s not a specific mental health term, the link between perfectionism and mental health is quite clear. Setting impossible standards and being overly critical (both of yourself or others) isn’t the recipe for a healthy mindset, and the desire to be perfect can lead to pushing your body and mind to a level that isn’t healthy and isn’t sustainable.
With all that said, is perfectionism connected to mental health? According to the “Journal of Clinical Psychology, “People who’ve been diagnosed with anxiety tend to display more perfectionistic traits than the average citizen.” Chasing perfection or exhibiting habits of perfectionism can often create anxiety if a person doesn’t meet all their goals, and if a person already deals with anxiety to begin with, this mindset can create major challenges.
Years ago, I never would’ve admitted I was a perfectionist. I thought perfectionists were only type-A personalities, or that only a specific type of person could be a perfectionist. But I’m slowly learning that we’re all susceptible to falling in the trap of perfectionism.
Our current moment in culture instills a mindset that there is no room for error, that we don’t have time for mistakes. Not only is that incorrect, but it’s incredibly damaging to the millions of people who experience mental illness and already live within that mindset. There is a massive difference between wanting to improve your life or yourself in certain areas, and wanting to be perfect in everything you do. The more we name how damaging perfectionism can be for our mental health, the more we can learn how to cope with that.