Perfectionism, everyone’s favorite neurosis, is way worse than you probably thought. We all know it can be stressful, but who knew it could be deadly?
As New York mag so aptly put, “Perfectionism is a trait many of us cop to coyly, maybe even a little proudly.” So. True. In a society that values overwork and busy-ness, all for material gain, perfectionism is a badge of honor.
But common sense dictates that perfectionism and happiness can’t coexist. Perfection isn’t possible, so perfectionists spend a lifetime chasing an impossible goal. That’s a recipe for restlessness and discontent and misery if there ever was one.
Often, high achievers appear to be perfectionists, so it’s no wonder our success-obsessed culture is enamored with this particular disorder. Think perfect, and you’re probably imagining the Martha Stewarts and Heidi Klums and David Beckhams of the world.
But underneath their flawless facades, many seemingly successful people are deeply disturbed, wracked by self-loathing and a crippling fear of failure. Many see themselves as fakes or imposters.
Rather frightening new research suggests that perfectionism amplifies the risk of suicide, and frequently goes hand in hand with depression and anxiety. Impossible expectations and unattainable standards lead to unhappy endings.
Perfectionism may look pretty, but it’s ugly business underneath. It’s image crafting at its worst. It’s taking 60 selfies before posting the perfect shot — it’s starving yourself to achieve a thigh gap — it’s working 80 hours a week to climb the corporate ladder.
Perfectionism and peace can’t occupy the same person. Even when they find success, perfectionists aren’t happy. They can’t be, because any achievement falls short of perfection. Marriages, jobs, homes, friendships — nothing real can ever live up to their standards for themselves.
And according to science, perfectionists actually aren’t usually the most innovative or successful in their fields.
“Research confirms that the most successful people in any given field are less likely to be perfectionistic, because the anxiety about making mistakes gets in your way,” psychologist Thomas S. Greenspon told New York Magazine.
In the words of the always-wise Brené Brown, “Healthy striving is self-focused: ‘How can I improve?’ Perfectionism is other-focused: ‘What will they think?'” There’s nothing more miserable than spending a lifetime worrying about what other people think, and that’s why you need to stop being a perfectionist ASAP. Bad news.
So how do we free ourselves from this Chinese finger trap of psychological ruin?
Perfectionism’s anecdote is authenticity. Strip away the outer layers, and we’re all flawed humans underneath. That’s why I’m so stoked when people stand up and admit to their imperfections. To find happiness, we have to embrace the imperfect nature of our world and ourselves.
We can all do it, in even the littlest ways — by letting someone tag us in a less-than-flattering photo, by trying something new we might not be good at, by telling a story about an embarrassing mistake. Owning up to being imperfect is powerful, and it gives other people permission to do the same. <3