Perfectionism takes no prisoners
Is perfectionism taking its toll on us today? Are we becoming slaves to achieving ever-increasing, unrealistic goals? Are we setting the bar so high that we’re setting ourselves up for failure? And if this is the case – why? Research is revealing more and more evidence that this is the case! Recent studies show that the quest for perfectionism leads to higher levels of anxiety, depression and even suicide. We seem to be living in an age of anxiety, and too many of us are paying the cost by trying to keep up with “others.” We’re expected to look like models, superstars and professionals of all types. On top of that, we’re supposed to be “driven, high-achieving machines that can juggle any number of balls, look hot, sexy and intelligent. And let’s not forget demands to be great moms, dads and workmates. Yet, we continue to seek perfectionism in all these areas – is it possible?
You gotta be kidding
We push our kids to figure out what they want to do in life at an early age. We push ourselves to find the right balance between allowing kids to run free and helicoptering them. We expect them (and ourselves) to be in touch with their masculinity/femininity and vice versa. Maybe we’re asking more of our kids than they can handle? Perhaps it’s us who are “pushing” them to achieve perfection. All of this with a healthy dose of keeping up with all the people who have “perfect lives” on social media! Is there anybody out there is less than perfect? It sure makes me wonder.
“Neoliberal governance” is the cause
A study recently republished by the American Psychological Association entitled, “Perfectionism Is Increasing Over Time” (https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/bul-bul0000138.pdf) written in 2017 by Thomas Curran and Andrew P. Hill took a unique approach to this problem. The study discussed what they call “neoliberal governance being responsible for creating the conditions for rampant individualism to spread.” According to Hill and Curran, “an unchecked free market is placing undue stress on younger generations, forcing them to battle for screen space regularly.” In other words, the authors consider perfectionism to be a cultural phenomenon. “In its broadest sense, then, perfectionism can be understood to develop through the messages that young people internalize from their immediate social environments, the resulting view of themselves, especially how they construe self-worth and how it is established, and their sense of self in relation to others,” according to the authors.
Curran and Hill define perfectionism as “excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations.” Having witnessed this closeup, I couldn’t think of a better definition. The study involved 41,641 students between 1989 and 2016 and divided perfectionism into three types: self-oriented perfectionists. These are people irrational in their self-importance. They hold unrealistic expectations of themselves and punish themselves when they can’t meet the impossible standards they set. These individuals only see self-worth in their achievements. It’s tough for these people to get satisfaction. Socially prescribed perfectionists. These people believe that others judge them harshly, which forces them to seek approval anywhere they can. This is a tough group. They suffer from anxiety and depression. Without help, suicide is not uncommon. Other-oriented perfectionists. These people set unrealistic standards for everyone else and then criticize them when these standards are not met. Studies have linked these individuals to high levels of revenge-seeking, hostility and a tendency to blame others for their own faults.
According to the authors, a neoliberal environment increases narcissism, extraversion, and self-confidence while decreasing caring for others’ welfare. It also causes people to blame others (look at Twitter if you don’t believe them). This results from living in an “influencer culture,” where we seem to worship experiences, many of which simply aren’t true. Social media has affected us in ways we haven’t realized. One study in the UK showed that body dysmorphia and eating disorders in young females have increased by 30% since social media became commonplace. We now treat individuals with the highest status and most possessions as winners without really knowing much about them. Those who have less tend to feel less deserving, while those with material wealth often have low self-esteem. Yet, the constant bombardment of people having more fun and stuff than us is exacting a price.
Endless messages persuade us that what we do defines who we are. And that leads to constant self-criticism and a never-ending worry that we’re not measuring up. So, what can you do about this? Quite a bit, in fact, but we need a different mindset. First, we need to understand that being perfect doesn’t lead to social acceptance. Second, we need to realize that we’re going to make mistakes and that we can grow from them. Third, no one is perfect, and life isn’t perfect. And that includes all the celebrities we see online and elsewhere. And finally, you can’t keep “being perfect” forever. If you try to, you’re going to burn out, hit the wall or whatever you want to call it. The quest for perfectionism takes no prisoners. Don’t let it capture you!