Wanting to improve, either in yourself or with your work, is a completely normal and productive desire. Like with most good things, though, it’s possible to go too far. When that happens, we call it perfectionism. It’s not to be taken lightly: perfectionism can be incredibly damaging to a person’s happiness, their quality of life and even their mental health.
It all stems from an unhealthy belief that a person’s performance, actions and achievements are never good enough. Typically, perfectionists suffer from a low sense of self-worth, and they punish themselves ruthlessly (and unfairly) because of it.
Perfectionism in Day-to-Day Life
People with perfectionist traits experience them in a range of different ways, normally depending on their lifestyle and their daily routine.
Students might study for longer than is necessary or healthy; they could obsess over every missed mark in an assignment or write out the same pages of notes repeatedly to get them ‘right’. Failure for these students could be emotionally devastating and lead to extreme mental distress.
Employees might spend hours on a single task at work, endlessly retreading the same ground in an effort to correct minuscule (and ultimately insignificant) flaws. Ironically, perfectionists often underperform in these settings and often miss deadlines—a cycle that can actually end up harming a sufferer’s self-esteem.
Parents can sometimes channel their perfectionism into their children, blaming themselves when their child doesn’t succeed or misbehaves. Perfectionist parents may also obsess over every choice made on behalf of their child, worrying that even the smallest decision may have a major impact on their child’s long-term development.
Long-Term Effects of Perfectionism
In the long run, perfectionism can lead to severe confidence and body-image issues, among a mountain of other things. For one, the focus on appearances driven by social media platforms often combines with the intense competitiveness of perfectionists, sending their self-critical brains into overdrive. The longer they spend scrolling through their phones, the more fuel they have to criticise themselves and damage their mental wellbeing.
It’s not just self-confidence either; perfectionism can also lead to depression and anxiety. As perfectionism gets its grips into a person, it can send them on a downward spiral of stress, self-directed anger and mental torment. If it’s not addressed, perfectionism can have truly disastrous consequences.
How to Combat Perfectionism
Through talking with trusted people, professional or otherwise, perfectionists can grow to understand their self-critical minds and hopefully learn to overcome them. Additionally, keeping a journal of thoughts, moods and behaviours can also be a good way to help perfectionists understand themselves and learn to recognise their unhealthy inner monologue when it appears.
It’s not easy, but learning to embrace a mindset of self-acceptance (and eventually self-compassion) is central to overcoming the worst of perfectionism. And whilst wanting to do a good job is normal and—in most cases—a good thing, perfectionists also have to learn when it’s best to “just not give a f**k!” At the end of the day, it’s not worth breaking your back to make something 0.01% better. Happiness is more important.