This article will discuss how the notion of perfectionism has changed over time, how people have been thriving for it, and how it has been present nowadays. The article will also show ways one can cope with this overwhelming idea of perfectionism.
How has perfectionism statistics changed over time?
Nowadays people appear to have become a lot more perfectionists than previous generations. In a recent study done by Curran and Hill, 41,641 people completed the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale from the 1980s to 2016 to analyze how it has changed over time.
The study discovered that, especially between 1989 and 2016, the score of self-oriented perfectionism increased 10%, the socially prescribed type of perfectionism is 33% higher, and the other-oriented perfectionism got 16% higher.
This may be for many reasons, including the use of social media, which causes people to constantly compare themselves to others, and try to be perfect. This can lead to great dissatisfaction with the life they are living, and their bodies, causing them to isolate themselves.
Another life goal that causes people to be perfectionists in their education and career. Young people are constantly worried about how successful they will be. This causes them to compare grades and averages with their peers. Creating an unrealistic idea of educational and career success.
According to the research, in the 80s half of the teens graduating from college were expected to have a college degree, in 2008 that number rose to 80%. But the number of people that got the degree never followed that starting. Which can explain how fiercely they have been competing with others, and how they can feel like a failure.
Recent estimates say that toxic perfectionism has been hitting young people extremely hard. Causing 30% of undergraduate students to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression. To better discover the negative aspects of perfectionism, let’s understand what perfectionism is.
What is perfectionism?
Perfectionism is a combination of high personal standards and a too critical evaluation of yourself. It can be divided into 3 facets: self-oriented perfectionism, other-oriented perfectionism, and finally socially prescribed perfectionism.
The first one happens when people put too much importance on being perfect and hold high, possibly unrealistic expectations on themselves. People with self-oriented perfectionism can have a high sense of self-criticism.
The other-oriented perfectionism is about the high standard you may hold to others. It tends to evaluate others critically, and often be judgemental. And socially prescribed perfectionism happens when people think their social circle is constantly demanding them to be perfect.
They can feel judged, and want to be perfect to be approved by others. To those, being perfect is a way to avoid rejection. What is important to highlight is that a person can be a perfectionist in one area of their life, but not in others.
How does it affect mental health?
Perfectionism causes you to aim for impossible outcomes, and that can be extremely damaging to a person’s mental health. When you are a perfectionist, you try to prove your worth to others by flawlessly doing activities.
Being a perfectionist can cause you to ruminate on what you have done, how it should have been done, how they are not perfect, or even how they are worthless. This can be a huge source of stress, affect their self-esteem, and self-worth, causing them to feel guilty and ashamed of each failure.
All this heavy load of expectations can cause people to develop many mental illnesses, mainly anxiety, depression, and some people may even experience suicidal thoughts. If you perceive that perfectionism is taking a toll on you, here are some ways you can handle it.
How to handle perfectionism
There are some ways people can handle perfectionism so it doesn’t take such a toll on their mental health. The first thing to do is to understand succeeding is not always possible, and that not achieving what you wanted is not a failure.
Not getting what you aimed to do is not a sign that you are weak. People usually relate their self-worth to what others may think of them, and when you don’t succeed, you may feel like your life is over. That having a flaw, or showing others you are not perfect, will cast you as an outsider in this extremely competitive world.
That is why you are always looking for perfection, but this can be exhausting. If you don’t achieve something, try to have some compassion for yourself. That can be hard since most people just want to punish themselves as they experience a high level of self-criticism.
If you don’t achieve something, it might be time to rethink your goals, be compassionate of yourself, and maybe work harder. It is not the time for self-punishment, or of going on that spiral of negativity.
As you calm yourself down, going over your goals can be important. People that are perfectionists tend to have too high and unrealistic goals. Try to add some flexibility, and perseverance to them. Don’t focus only on the outcome, but rather on the whole process and what you will learn with it.
Another aspect perfectionists need to deal with is the notion that they need to, not only finish the task but do it perfectly. Having this idea that you need to do things perfectly can often be a reason why you avoid doing it in the first place.
You get so focused on the possibility of failing, or not being perfect, that you just give it all up. And as the deadline approaches, you can be taken over by overwhelming fear. To handle this, it might be important to divide the task into small steps and keep in mind that getting it done is more important than getting it perfect.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ): How has the perfectionism statistics changed over time?
How does social media impact our notion of perfection?
Social media has a direct effect on the notion people have of perfection. But what is important to keep in mind is that social media was created because people felt the need to show their pictures, or what they were going through.
And in some ways, that can be positive. For example, through hashtags people can connect to a community that has a similar interest, making people feel less alone. The problem starts when people’s vulnerability can’t appear on social media because, if they do, they will be looked at through the microscope.
This causes everyone to try to be perfect in the life they show online. And it is a vicious circle, the more worried you are that people will see your vulnerable side, the more you will try to display yourself as perfect, and people looking from the outside start to think they need to do the same.
So now, everyone is online trying to display a perfect life.
What are the physical impacts of perfectionism?
Perfectionism can impact not only your mental health but can also have a huge impact on your physical health. Some people even believe that too much perfectionism can make you have a lower life span. Not only that, it can cause you to have chronic headaches, fatigue, insomnia, and heartburn.
People that are perfectionists also have a higher chance of developing an eating disorder, and they can experience heart failure, pancreatitis, constipation, and even tooth decay.
Are you born a perfectionist or have you become one?
Some research says that perfectionism comes from a genetic trait. Around 15 and 25% of perfectionism traits can come from genetics. But it also has an important social origin. It can come from how you were raised by your parents.
They can have been demanding parents that wanted you to be the best student, or the best dancer, or the best child you can be. And growing up with that, you may have started to be too hard on yourself. Trying to show to everyone you are perfect, and causing yourself a lot of suffering when you fail.
Is there a good side to being a perfectionist?
No, there is no good side to being a perfectionist. When you are one, some important qualities such as diligence and meticulousness go on overdrive and lose their adaptive trait. People may confuse both those traits with perfectionism.
But what differs them is the ability the person has to deal with the frustration of not being perfect. Along with that, the person that is a perfectionist can’t separate themselves from their actions. Their self-esteem and sense of self-worth are always connected to how they deal with a task.
But a person that is diligent or even meticulous can aim to do the best job they can in each of their tasks, but they are not aiming to be flawless in the eyes of others or even to themselves. Knowing they did the best they could, is enough. Their sense of self-esteem or self-worth is not directly connected to how they do a task.
Can perfectionists lead to anger issues?
Yes, depending on how the person handles their perfectionism, it can lead them to develop anger issues. Many researches have shown that people who have maladaptive perfectionism, are prone to physical aggression, hostility, and even verbal aggression.
It can also lead to social disconnection, hostility. This can happen because people that are perfectionists may have a low tolerance for frustration, and when they feel like they have failed, it can be extremely hard for them to deal with that emotion.
Some of them can internalize their feelings, but other perfectionists can have outbursts such as anger outbursts. If you feel like you are going through this, it might be a warning sign that your perfectionism is getting the best of you.
So instead of waiting for the worst to happen, it might be important to look for help. Therapy can help you understand the root of your perfectionism, and how you can be more flexible and caring with yourself.
Not only that, you will learn how to tolerate frustration better, and how to avoid your perfectionism from harming your relationships.
This article discussed how perfectionism has changed over time. It showed how the statistics of it have altered, and what impact it has been having on people’s mental health. Asked from that, the article explained what perfectionism is, and what are ways to handle it.
If you have any questions or comments about the article, feel free to write it in the section below.
Curran T, Hill Ap. Perfectionism is increasing over time: a meta-analysis of birth cohort differences from 1989 to 2016. Psychological Bulletin. 2019. Vol. 145(4): 410-429.