Pefectionism Is Linked With Depression
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Some of the most well-known people on the planet struggle with perfectionism. Incredible athletes, talented actors, and driven entrepreneurs have tendencies to accept nothing less than excellence, ever striving to meet their internal demands and the expectations of society. However, having high standards for oneself and others, and being crippled by extremely perfectionistic traits are two different matters.
In a 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey, the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson, admitted to being a perfectionist and never satisfied with any of his work. After his death, investigations and the trial of Dr. Conrad Murray revealed that Jackson suffered from a host of problems, including anxiety and depression. His perfectionist tendencies drove him to extreme behaviors, and in the end, he over-medicated in order to sleep, which resulted in his death.
People with perfectionist personality styles are intense and driven. This method of thinking has three aspects, mainly, consisting of self-oriented perfectionism, other-oriented perfectionism, and socially-prescribed perfectionism. Their standards of flawlessness apply to themselves and others, and they imagine society to also demand perfection from them.
While perfectionism is not defined as a "disorder", its prevalence and severity can lead to clinical depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric illnesses. Because of the perfectionists intolerance for errors, people with a perfectionist personality are rarely happy with any aspect of their lives, leading them to engage in destructive behaviors such as eating disorders, divorce, and suicidal ideation. Their willingness to discard health, relationships, and their own lives are consequences of the “just right phenomenon”. According to Gordon Flett, York University psychology professor, the "just right" phenomenon is when something or someone doesn’t fit the exact model of expectations, so a person with a perfectionist personality would rather walk away than fix flaws.
The Consequences of Perfectionism
Flett has spent years examining the personality traits of perfectionism and its consequences. His most recent research examines the potential risk factors of suicide for people with perfectionism. He believes that the perceived external pressures of socially-prescribed perfectionism and the effects of the “just right phenomenon” can lead to tragic results for the perfectionist. People with this personality style may develop a sense of hopelessness from being unable to meet societies’ expectations. It is also their inability to cope with their potential flaws that may make them more willing to commit suicide.
Along with co-authors Paul Hewitt, from the University of British Columbia, and Marnin Heisel, of Western University, Flett has identified perfectionism as an independent risk factor for suicide. Their research indicates that the tenets of socially-prescribed perfectionism places certain individuals at an increased risk for suicide, especially those in professions that demand expertise and have little room for error. Such occupations include attorneys, physicians, architects, and many important leadership positions.
Flett, Hewitt, and Heisel’s investigation also concluded that perfectionists’ abilities to mask emotions and present varying public personas may heighten suicidal risks, because no warning signs exist. They hope to see their findings included in the clinical guidelines for suicide risks and urge clinicians to provide patients with individualized treatment plans that emphasize behavior modifications related to a perfectionist personality style.
Acceptance: The First Step To Change
As with any other personal problem, the first step to improvement is acceptance. Again, having high standards for oneself and others is healthy, but when meeting those expectations becomes impossible, it may be necessary for a person with perfectionist traits to subjectively assess his or her feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. If symptoms of anxiety, depression, and anger continuously prevent someone from living in peace, then it may be necessary to seek professional help. Beyond emotions, certain thought patterns are predominant in . . .
The Mind of a Perfectionist
These thought patterns and enduring emotional hopelessness may lead to obsessive and unhealthy behaviors such as chronic re-checking, procrastination, being too guarded, and refusing to try new methods. The agony over daily tasks combined with unhealthy thoughts may lead perfectionists to a crippled lifestyle. Overcoming the obstacles of perfectionism is not easy, and many will need the assistance of professionals and a strong social support system. For those able to, creating personal mantras to remind oneself that no human is perfect is a good start. It may be impossible to convince a person with perfectionist personality style of this truth, but the power of positive thinking cannot be underestimated.
Other areas to adjust thinking and behaviors include looking at events from another point of view or practicing looking at life in terms of what’s really important. Working on becoming more realistic about what will really happen in the event of failure (with failure being subjective) may also help a perfectionist let go of fear. Since perfectionism is mostly fear based, it may be necessary to attend therapy that includes behavior modification techniques. Taking chances at small changes, such as altering routines, or allowing mistakes, such as writing an e-mail with known errors, will help alleviate the burden of perfectionism.
Above all, it is essential to recognize and alter perfectionists’ ill-feelings, negative thoughts, and destructive behaviors to improve overall quality of life and gain a sense of normalcy.
- Melissa Lavery, M.S.
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