Perfectionism and the impossibility of a perfect world

Photo by Flickr user Adam Foster. Click for sourceThe Boston Herald has an interesting article on perfectionism – a pathological pursuit of usually unobtainable high standards that is strongly linked to anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

Perfectionism is variously described as a personality trait or a type of dysfunctional assumption where people feel their self-worth is dependent on 100% or perfect success.

It can be quite hard to shift, owing to the fact that some people find it hard to see why doing something perfectly isn’t a useful goal to aim for. However, when a desire for perfection is over-applied it tends to lead to harsh self-criticism and is self-defeating – ironically, people often perform worse as a result.

Psychologists Roz Shafran and Warren Mansell published an influential article on the role of perfectionism in mental illness in 2001, that really opened many people’s eyes to the importance of understanding perfectionist tendencies in psychopathology.

The Boston Globe article is a little more of a gentle introduction, but does a great job of succinctly describing the personal impact of perfectionism, some of the research in the area, and current approaches to treating the problem:

“Perfectionism is a phobia of mistake-making,” said Jeff Szymanski, executive director of the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation, which is based in Boston. “It is the feeling that ‘If I make a mistake, it will be catastrophic.’ “

Striving for perfection is fine, said Smith College psychology professor Randy Frost, a leading researcher on perfectionism. The issue is how you interpret your own inevitable mistakes and failings. Do they make you feel bad about yourself in a global sense? Does a missed shot in tennis make you slam your racket to the ground? Do you think anything less than 100 percent might as well be zero?

Link to ‘When perfectionism becomes a problem’.
Link to review article on perfectionism and psychopathology.
Link to PubMed entry for same.

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