Perfectionist? How Perfectionism Can Affect Your Mental Health

“I have no faith in human perfectibility. I think that human exertion will have no appreciable effect upon humanity. Man is now only more active – not more happy – nor more wise, than he was 6000 years ago.” – Edgar Allen Poe

Those are the words of Edgar Allen Poe, the famed American writer and poet. And he brings up a good point when we relate it to perfection. Why is it we exert so much of ourselves to achieve this so-called ‘perfection’. In case you haven’t guessed already, I’m talking to you perfectionists. 

In fact, many perfectionists believe achieving the perfect score, the perfect art piece, the perfect persona, will make them happy, when in theory, it will likely make them feel worse.

What is a perfectionist? A perfectionist is someone who holds themselves to impossibly high standards paired with the constant worry that what they do won’t be good enough. While you may think achieving a near-perfect result will equal better results in what you do, you must ask yourself: at what cost? Perfectionism has been known to lead to anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and self-harm. And believe it or not, those who constantly worry about being perfect, may find it hard to try to start what it is they need to perfect in the first place! Why? The fear of not achieving ‘perfection’. This can lead to major procrastination, anxiety, and depression among other things. If you’re a perfectionist, you may want to know how exactly being one can affect you, this article covers that. We also have a few tips to help you at the end of this article on how to go about dealing with perfectionism. Here are just a few of the ways being a perfectionist can affect your mental health.

1. It Can Lead to Anxiety, Depression, & Suicidal Ideation

Psychologists Gordon Flett and Paul Hewitt defined the three main types of perfectionism in a breakthrough study on perfectionism. There is self-oriented perfectionism – where you expect yourself to be perfect, other-oriented perfectionism – where you expect others to be perfect, and socially prescribed perfectionism – where you believe others expect you to be perfect. Socially prescribed prescribed perfectionism has been deemed the most debilitating out of the three according to a recent study by psychologists Thomas Curran and Andrew P. Hill. Specialists have linked anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation to this form of perfectionism. And it doesn’t sound easy at all, this type of perfectionist believes others will judge them harshly if they’re not perfect and that is the only way to approval. 

2. It Raises the Risk of Bipolar Disorder

While many perfectionists have been known to struggle with mental illness, self-critical perfectionism has been said to raise the risk of bipolar disorder. According to a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders: “reports have highlighted perfectionism and related cognitive styles as a psychological risk factor for stress and anxiety symptoms as well as for the development of bipolar disorder symptoms.”

3. It Causes One to Live with an ‘Inner Critic’

How else can perfectionism affect your mental health? Try living with an inner critic nearly twenty-four seven! Perfectionists often have to deal with a demanding and relentless inner dialogue that criticizes. One will often think they’re not good enough in a looping dialogue. One which seems like it will never end. It’s important to realize this type of perfectionism can lean towards self-abuse. We all can grow towards the realization that others won’t always judge us on our achievements or grades. No matter how perfect or imperfect they are.

4. It Increases One’s Risk of Suicide

Being self-critical on one’s self can take a toll. If you mix that with the mental disorders one can also go through while being a perfectionist, the risk of suicide can grow. On study found that a shocking fifty-six percent of those who died by suicide, were described as perfectionists by their loved ones. Seventy percent of young people who died by suicide were also said to have “exceedingly high” expectations of themselves in another study. 

5. Higher Blood Pressure & Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Being a perfectionist can put a lot of strain on one’s mental health, but it’s also important to mention how it can affect your physical health. Several studies have found high blood pressure is more frequent with perfectionists. While some researchers have even linked being a perfectionist with cardiovascular disease. 

Helpful Tips on Perfectionism

It’s important to take care of your mental health as well as your physical health. If you believe you are a perfectionist and are worried about the risks, there’s hope. We can all change one step at a time. And if you don’t know where to begin, Professor Paul Hewitt’s Perfectionism and Psychopathology Lab at University of British Columbia suggests some great tips. 

1. Don’t Base Your Self-Esteem on How You Perform. 

Your self-worth is not based on your performance. Instead, try to focus on what you can control. Were you kind to someone today? Did you work on your project? Instead of focusing on if the project is perfect, focus on the idea you started it and are progressing! 

2. Focus on the Positives.

Mistakes are bound to happen. We all make them at one point! It’s important to take a look at the positives of a situation when you start stressing over a mistake or negative outcome. 

3. Getting Things Done is Better Than Getting Them Perfect.

As the Perfection and Psychopathology Lab fantastically suggests, sometimes simply getting things done is better in the long run. Will you really be thinking about your grade in High School Biology five years down the line? Instead of putting your tasks off due to fear of imperfection, make just the smallest step towards starting, and then see if you can continue to keep going a bit further. It can be hard not to overthink when you are suffering from perfectionism, but if we can try to lean towards simplicity when we fear imperfection, but sometimes it’s the ‘perfect’ thing we need in that moment. 

And if you’re worried about being your ‘perfect’ self? Being free and true to yourself is a great start to where you’ll find happiness. Take it from Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius:

“Perfection of character is this: to live each day as if it were your last, without frenzy, without apathy, without pretence.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

So, do you think you might be a perfectionist? In what way? Feel free to share with us in the comments down below. And if you’re suffering from some of these affects, it may be a good idea to talk with a counselor, mental health professional, or loved one about what you’re going through. You’re not alone.

Written by Michal Mitchell

Follow me on Instagram and Twitter at @jackycoocoo for more articles, celebrity interviews, original poetry and more.

Check out “9 Little Things That Reveal a Lot About You” or my other articles here.

References:

  • Corry, J., Green, M., Roberts, G., Frankland, A., Wright, A., Lau, P., … Mitchell, P. B. (2013, September 6). Anxiety, stress and perfectionism in bipolar disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165032713006630. 
  • Sandoiu, A. The effects of perfectionism on mental and physical health. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323323#What-exactly-is-perfectionism? 
  • Heitz, D. (2017, December 24). Perfectionism: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/perfectionism#symptoms.

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