Why perfectionism may not always be healthy for your mind

Being a perfectionist may be bad for your mental health. We tell you the negative aspects of perfectionism.
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Perfectionism can be a problem! Image courtesy: Freepik
Natalia Ningthoujam Published: 25 Jan 2024, 09:18 am IST
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People who want to be perfectionists mostly desire to produce flawless work. They also tend to have high levels of motivation, and set and work hard to achieve highly challenging goals. Healthy perfectionist tendencies are known to foster success. When tempered with positivity, perfectionism can become a catalyst for personal and professional development, contributing to a well-balanced and joyful life. But then perfectionists are highly critical of themselves and the things they do. That is just one of the reasons why perfectionism can be a problem. Read on to know the negative effects of perfectionism.

What is perfectionism?

Perfectionism, at its core, reflects a dedication to excellence and a commitment to high standards. While the pursuit of perfection can sometimes bring challenges, it’s essential to channel this drive positively, says psychiatrist Dr Samant Darshi. Setting realistic goals allows for personal growth without the weight of unattainable standards. Celebrating progress, no matter how small, fosters self-compassion and resilience.

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Perfectionists have high standards. Image courtesy; Adobe Stock

Adaptive and maladaptive are two forms of ‌perfectionism, and both types are associated with high standards. Adaptive perfectionism is more about striving for personal achievements and standards. Maladaptive, on the other hand, revolves around self-critical evaluation. Such perfectionists are more concerned about other people’s expectations and critiques.

What causes perfectionism?

Perfectionism often stems from a fear of failure, driven by high standards and a desire for external validation, says the expert. It can result from childhood experiences, parental expectations, or societal pressure. Fear of criticism or rejection can also fuel perfectionistic tendencies.

What are the negative effects of perfectionism on mental health?

As per a 2011 study published in the Nursing Research and Practice journal, perfectionists are vulnerable to symptoms of depression. This is especially true when their maladaptive perfectionism style becomes clinically significant. According to the research, the patterns of concern over mistakes they made, and expectation of criticism that is inherent in unhealthy perfectionist tendencies can lead to distorted thinking and social isolation.

Here are some side effects of perfectionism:

1. Anxiety

Perfectionists often set unrealistically high standards for themselves. This leads to anxiety as they constantly strive to meet or exceed these standards, fearing failure or criticism, says the expert.

2. Stress

If there is fear of not achieving perfection, it can lead to procrastination. So, perfectionists may delay tasks to avoid potential imperfections, causing increased stress.

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3. Low self-esteem

Perfectionists tie their self-worth to their achievements, making them susceptible to low self-esteem when they perceive they have fallen short of their lofty standards. This constant self-criticism can erode confidence over time.

4. Social isolation

The fear of being judged or not meeting their own high expectations may lead perfectionists to withdraw from social activities. This can contribute to isolation and loneliness.

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5. Burnout

The relentless pursuit of perfection can result in burnout as individuals push themselves to the point of physical and emotional exhaustion. They may neglect self-care and a balanced lifestyle.

6. Impaired relationships

Perfectionism can strain relationships, as the need for perfection extends to others. Constantly setting high standards for those around them may create tension and distance in relationships, says Dr Darshi.

7. Fear of failure

Perfectionists often fear failure to an extreme degree, avoiding new challenges or opportunities that might not guarantee success. This fear limits personal and professional growth.

8. Depression

The cumulative effect of perfectionism’s negative impact on mental health, including stress, anxiety, and low self-esteem, can contribute to the development or exacerbation of depressive symptoms.

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Perfectionists are vulnerable to symptoms of depression. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

How to counter negative effects of perfectionism?

To overcome the negative effects of perfectionism, you can do the following:

  • Embrace a growth mindset, acknowledging that mistakes are opportunities to learn.
  • Set realistic goals.
  • Break tasks into smaller steps. Celebrate progress.
  • Foster self-compassion by treating yourself with kindness and understanding.
  • Challenge irrational thoughts about failure and prioritise the process over the outcome.
  • Seek constructive feedback rather than seeking constant approval. Emphasise the importance of balance and acknowledge that perfection is unattainable.
    Work on mindfulness to reduce anxiety.

Perfectionism, while driven by a pursuit of excellence, can sometimes bring challenges. By reframing challenges as opportunities for growth, perfectionism can evolve into a positive force for personal and professional development.

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About the Author

Natalia Ningthoujam has written on various subjects - from music to films and fashion to lifestyle - as a journalist in her career that started in 2010. After getting stories from the crime scene, police headquarters, and conducting interviews with celebrities, she is now writing on health and wellness which has become her focus area. ...Read More

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