Earlier this week, I wrote about recognizing how my perfectionism limits me. This wasn’t a realization I’d ever had before, and even though I’ve talked to people about perfectionism, I was a bit blind to how it showed up in my own life. Now that I’ve become aware, I’ve gotten more interested in perfectionism as a concept and how it pops up in our lives. So, I decided to do a little research into the question: is perfectionism good for us or bad for us?
In trying to answer this question, I learned a lot about the complexities of perfectionism. I thought I might be able to find clear arguments for or against perfectionism, but what I found was more of a mixed bag. As a child, I remember hearing a lot about striving for perfection in everything I did. Whether it was school, sports, or anything else I was involved in, I remembered that “practice makes perfect” and took that into everything I did.
Now, I’ll also admit that there was a ton of filtering going on in my brain when I was growing up, so I remember more of my negative moments than my positive ones. But what I thought was “trying my best” often resulted in an endless pursuit of perfection – a pursuit that, obviously, I wouldn’t reach.
More recently, research has focused the toll that perfectionism can take on us, both from a mental and physical health perspective. A BBC article from 2018 wrote about a study in which “the average college student last year was much more likely to have perfectionistic tendencies than a student in the 1990s or early 2000s,” one of many signs that perfectionism in the modern age is both unrealistic and unsustainable. A Psychology Today article from 2019 also noted that “…additionally, the need to appear perfect has become a prominent Western cultural value, due to the pervasive nature of social media.”
Alternatively, many argue that there are positive and negative sides of perfectionism. Though it’s a few years older (2010), this article from Live Science makes the case that
“Perfectionism tends to have two components: a positive side, including things like setting high standards for themselves; and a negative side, which involves more deleterious factors, such as having doubts and concerns over mistakes and feeling pressure from others to be perfect.”Live Science
Even though I don’t have good connotations with perfectionism, I realize the pervasive attitude of perfectionism that exists in our culture. That attitude has only grown more in our digital age, and people who are growing up today will have much different challenges than I did growing up.
While I’m not going to knock anyone who exudes health perfectionistic traits, I am going to share my new-found knowledge about the limits of perfectionism with anyone who might benefit. There’s probably a lot more research I need to do about the relationship between perfectionism and mental health, but noting these things is a good place to start.