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Danger of Perfectionism

I am sure many of us are familiar with the “Asians with high expectations” meme – such as this one here:


Most of us would laugh at it, but if we stop and think about it, how many of us could actually relate to this meme? How often do we tell ourselves to work hard, get the high grades, have a good social life, look great, all while appearing calm and collected too. Perfectionism, ironically, sets us to fail, because we cannot do everything right all the time, can we?

One study conducted by Soreni et al. (2014), for example, looked at college students and their maladaptive perfectionism and found that maladaptive perfectionists tend to be more vulnerable to stress, find life events as more stressful and obtain less social support from others. Other research has found possible link to somatic complaints (Stober & Rambow, 2007), obsessive-compulsive and depressive symptoms (Soreni et al., 2014).

Issues related to academic stress have been increasingly common among teenagers and young adults. The root of this often involves a desire of wanting to be perfect, which is fueled by extremely negative perceptions towards mistakes and failure. The challenge here being that we all make mistakes at some point in life, so the perfectionist is inevitably doomed having set for themselves a goal that is unreachable and have their self-worth dependent on it.

So, being a perfectionist can be an exercise in unnecessary frustration at best; at worst, it can trigger psychological distress. But what are we supposed to do, give up on higher standards and self-improvement altogether? Stober and Rambow (2007) says no, their research on examining perfectionism among 121 ninth graders found that striving for perfection was negatively correlated with depressive symptoms, once the influence of negative reactions to imperfection was taken out (Stober & Rambow, 2007).

Thus it seems that perfectionism is not the problem, but the fear of making mistakes is. Perhaps we should understand that the journey, while challenging at times, is what makes up our life. If we only focus on the destination, there will always be a “next” destination, there is always someone better, smarter, stronger. Thus we would never experience anything but a temporary satisfaction, losing appreciation for what we have gained, and exhausting ourselves on the hamster wheel of perfectionism.

Mistakes should not scare us, as there is no way around them, and if you choose to react rather than learn from your mistakes they will have served no purpose other than to further eat away at your self-worth.

The greatest mistake you can make in life is to continually fear you will make one.

― Elbert Hubbard

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