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What Is Perfectionism and Is It A Disorder? 

What Is Perfectionism and Is It A Disorder?

Perfectionism is often seen as a positive trait that shows the determination to succeed. This extra boost helps Olympic athletes set records and scientists make new discoveries. 

This drive to be perfect is more complicated than trying hard to excel. Perfectionists often set high or unachievable standards for themselves. Failure to meet these goals is unacceptable. The constant pressure to succeed can cause stress, anxiety, blame, and mental illnesses.

With social media and a competitive economy, this cultural phenomenon is quickly growing. College students today are more perfectionistic than they used to be. This stems from the belief that others expect them to be perfect. Social media makes it easier than ever to compare your own life to others and pick out ways that you are failing.

What Is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism isn’t striving to be your best, it’s the desire to be perfect at everything. The cause behind perfectionism isn’t always clear. Although there is a genetic component, it is often a learned behavior. Perfectionism can stem from environmental causes such as:

  • The fear of disapproval from others
  • Feelings of insecurity or inadequacy
  • Mental health issues such as anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Parents expressing disapproval when work is not perfect
  • History of high achievement and pressure to succeed

Perfectionism presents as the need to be flawless at all times. These people believe that their actions are not worthwhile unless they are perfect. They link their self-imposed value to what they can achieve. In younger people, perfectionism is often brought out in academic settings. 

The desire to be perfect tends to result in procrastination in school and work. Most perfectionists do not want to begin or complete a task until they can do it with no flaws. This can also cause individuals to refuse to try new things out of fear of failure.

Signs of Perfectionism

Perfectionism can affect daily life from the workplace to relationships with loved ones. This doesn’t look the same for everyone. Perfectionists can fixate on their physical appearance, friendships, academics, or none of the above.

One common sign of perfectionism is not performing a task until a perfect result can be achieved. Someone might avoid trying new activities because of their fear of failure. Others struggle to share their feelings because it ruins their flawless image. 

Perfectionists tend to focus more on the end result than on the learning process. Until they achieve the perfect result, they consider their actions incomplete. They will fixate on any flaws instead of being proud of their personal growth and learning. Perfectionists often compare their own results to others even under different circumstances. Their fixation on perfection causes them to resent others who succeed.

Even when perfectionists succeed, the desired results are sometimes still considered unsatisfactory. They think that if they were actually smart, then they wouldn’t have to work so hard to achieve the perfect result. This makes the individual feel like they fail at everything they try.

Is Perfectionism a Mental Disorder? 

While perfectionism isn’t a diagnosable condition, it is a common trait of mental illness. It is a personality style where the individual is hypercritical of themselves. This low self-esteem can cause further vulnerability for psychological disorders. 

Perfectionists are more likely to become anxious or depressed when things go wrong. This trait is often seen in mental illnesses such as OCD. However, not all perfectionists have OCD and not all people with OCD are perfectionists.

There are different types of perfectionism based on the individual’s perceived expectations. Self-oriented perfectionists expect themselves to be perfect and set high standards to meet. Other-oriented perfectionists require those around them to be flawless. Others feel pressure from the world around them to be perfect. Those who fixate on meeting societal standards have socially prescribed perfectionism.

The Effects On Mental Health

Perfectionism can lead to a variety of mental health issues. Depression, anxiety, and OCD are associated with high levels of perfectionism. The constant stress of striving to be perfect can lead to other physical and mental effects such as:

  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Low self-esteem
  • Suicidal ideation or tendencies
  • Eating disorders

By basing their self-worth on perfection, perfectionists are creating impossible standards. This sets them up for failure, which will destroy feelings of self-worth. This harsh inner critic becomes draining and completing basic tasks can seem exhausting. Perfectionism interferes with quality of life from personal relationships to careers. This self-criticism and worry about expectations will cause them to stop trying altogether.

To lessen the stress from perfectionism, it is important to set attainable goals. Breaking up overwhelming goals into smaller tasks will make the action less daunting. Accepting that it is okay to make mistakes is also an important step. Learning opportunities are equally as valuable as the final results. Outside of mindfulness strategies, those with perfectionism should speak with a professional. Doctors can suggest therapy and other strategies to manage symptoms.

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