Everyone’s favourite flaw seems to be to be a perfectionist. Our begrudging admiration for perfection is so pervasive that we never really stop to question that concept in its own terms. It is a personality trait characterised by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting high performance standards. Often it is accompanied by critical self-evaluation What does perfectionism say about us and the society we live in? Is perfectionism the emblem of the successful?
Quite in contrary to the perceived notion that perfectionism is the path to success, studies are proving to show that perfectionists feel disconnected and dissatisfied due to a lingering sense that they’re never quite perfect enough. Perfectionism conceals a host of psychological difficulties from anxiety to depression and eating disorders. It takes no prisoners.
Research suggests perfectionism is rising as society is changing and a changed society reflects a changed sense of personal identity. With this comes change in the way young people are interacting with each other and the society around them. Today, young people are more preoccupied with the perfect lifestyle than ever before. This is in terms of status, image and wealth. Young people are borrowing more heavily than older generations did and they spend a much greater proportion of their income on image goods.
The idea at the heart of the American dream is that whatever you want can be reached, so long as you work hard enough. Opportunity, meritocracy and the self-made person; we are the captains of our own destiny. All of this is of course, complete fiction. Not to mention the lack of equal opportunities; young generation are subject to an unprecedented economic tribunal. Metrics, rankings and league table have emerged as yardsticks to quantify merit.
They have been conditions in the strict and narrow terms of grades and percentiles.
Take the student who works hard and gets a poor mark. If she tells herself: “I’m disappointed, but it’s okay; I’m still a good person overall,” that’s healthy. If the message is: “I’m a failure. I’m not good enough,” that’s perfectionism.
This is a society which is preying on insecurities and scrutinizing every flaw. Every unforseen set back increases the need to perform more perfectly next time, or else, bluntly, you’re a failure.
“There are studies that suggest that the higher the perfectionism is, the more psychological disorders you’re going to suffer.” – Sarah Egan
Thomas Curran, as a mentor to young people, witnesses the lives affected by perfectionism firsthand. He spoke of one student who stuck in his mind very clearly. Despite achieving top grades and scores, it was not enough. Curran realised it was the idea of always wanting more and trying to perfect the ‘imperfect self’ which meant that the student was never satisfied. There was a lack of belief of worthiness because he believed there was still so much more to do and perfect.
What perfectionism doesn’t tell us is that once we’ve reached the point which we want to get to, we will be called down again to the fresh lowlands of insecurity and shame. This is a fruitless cycle of self-defeat - in the pursuit of perfectionism.
Currently, 18% of the population of young people are shown to have perfectionism based on society, and societal expectations. A form of perfectionism where they are always second-guessing how society perceives them. By 2050, this percentage is projected to increase to every 1 in 3 young people. It is this form of perfectionism which has the greatest link to mental illness.
While conscientious people tend to live longer, perfectionists die earlier.
These folks believe that the better they do, the better they’re expected to do. This breeds a profound sense of helplessness, and worse, hopelessness. But of course, these is hope.
Typically perfectionists are bright, ambitious and conscientious people. A little bit of compassion for ourselves, taking it easy when things don’t go well can turn these qualities into greater personal success.
Most importantly, current research is raising questions about how we are structuring society and whether society’s heavy emphasis on competition, evaluation and testing is benefiting young people. We have a shared responsibility to create a society and a culture in which young people need less perfection. “When are we going to appreciate that there is something fundamentally inhuman about limitless perfection?” - Thomas Curran.
No one is flawless. Life will often defeat us, but that’s okay. Failure is not a weakness. We should be inviting the joys of imperfection in everyday living.