WORKPLACE / SEP. 29, 2014
version 2, draft 2

Is Perfectionism Bad For You?

By and large, perfectionism is seen as a positive trait to possess.  It means that you want things to be as good as they can be, and you are willing to put the time and effort into ensuring that is the case.  Most of the time, that is perfectly fine.  There may be a darker side to perfectionism however that should be of concern to all who lean in that direction.

A recent study, that was led by researchers from York University, suggests that perfectionism might entail a significant mental toll on those who strive for it, with a potentially higher risk of suicide as a result.

The research, led by Professor Gordon Flett, suggests that perfectionists demand such high standards from themselves that it puts their mental health at significant risk.  What’s more, he suggests that this risk is often much bigger than we really accept.

The research team went on to suggest that much closer examination is required of the destructive potential of perfectionism, and that clinical guidelines should be updated to include perfectionism as a possible factor in suicides, which would in turn influence assessment and intervention strategies.

The mental strain of perfectionism

The figures themselves are startling, with over one million people committing suicide around the world each year.

"There is an urgent need for looking at perfectionism with a person-centred approach as an individual and societal risk factor, when formulating clinical guidelines for suicide risk assessment and intervention, as well as public health approaches to suicide prevention," the professor says.

Professor Flett and his team note in their paper that there are certain professions that are especially prone to this problem.  Physicians, architects and lawyers are all prone to perfectionism, as their jobs rely on a high degree of precision.  When those professionals are also in leadership roles, the suicide risk sadly increases even more.

Whilst a good deal of the pressure to be perfect comes from within, the authors also explain how society plays a part too.  They reveal that socially prescribed perfectionism, where there is a regular demand for someone to be perfect, is a major contributor towards feelings of hopelessness, and eventually suicide.

The article goes on to discuss how often perfectionists conceal the extent of their stress from both themselves and others, thus often causing suicide to come as a complete surprise.  What’s more, they reveal how perfectionists often apply their perfectionism to their suicide plans as well, with their methods often meticulous and precise.

"We summarize data showing consistent links between perfectionism and hopelessness and discuss the need for an individualized approach that recognizes the heightened risk for perfectionists," the researchers continue, "They also tend to experience hopelessness, psychological pain, life stress, overgeneralization, and a form of emotional perfectionism that restricts the willingness to disclose suicidal urges and intentions."

The paper concludes by reinforcing the need to have preventative programs that are specifically designed for people with perfectionist character traits.  These will include ways to enhance our resilience, whilst also reducing the risks involved, especially amongst people that like to project an image of power and control.

It’s a salient warning that even those of us who appear to be perfect, may have serious issues bubbling under the surface.

Do you have perfectionist tendencies yourself?  How do you keep stress at bay?

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