Perfectionism is described by the OED as a ‘refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.’ Although many perceive the life of a perfectionist to be, well, perfect, the reality is quite the opposite.
Perfectionism is characterised by a striving for perfection, an obsession with success and overly ambitious goal setting.
It can also develop into more widely recognised psychological disorders, such as OCD, and is often recognised as a bi-product of other clinical problems, such as anxiety, depression and eating-disorders.
In turn, perfectionism can lead to a plethora of other mental health issues, such as chronic stress and experiences of Impostor Syndrome.
A main issue with people’s perception of perfectionism is that it is commonly seen as a positive trait as opposed to a flaw. However, the psychological torment that many perfectionists experience can have extremely negative effects on that person’s wellbeing.
Universities are constantly raising the bar so that ‘success’ seems to be forever out of reach
Individuals who suffer with perfectionism are prone to self-criticism, often working to the point of ‘burn-out’ and living in constant fear of failure. Regrettably, perfectionism is becoming increasingly prevalent in students. A report by the American Psychological Association showed that, in recent decades, each new generation believes their preceding generation are more demanding of them.
This is particularly applicable to our standards of academic success. Universities are constantly raising the bar so that ‘success’ seems to be forever out of reach. However, more first-class degrees are awarded now than ever before. But, paradoxically, the question is whether this is a result of increasing perfectionistic tendencies in students, or if the added pressure is the cause of these higher grades.
But, why is perfectionism on the rise in our student community? It comes as no surprise that our double-edged acquaintance, social media, is a main contender. Platforms such as Instagram warp our perception of reality, setting unrealistic standards. The constant comparison to others is a toxic habit, rife amongst our demographic, and it consequently plagues us with feelings of inadequacy.
What’s more, as the report by the American Psychological Association points out, societal expectations rise with the world’s progression.
The mindset of a perfectionist tends to prevent them from succeeding: procrastination, self-doubt, and overthinking acting as roadblocks to success
In this capitalist society, every corporate business is competing to be bigger and better, resulting in a world built upon ‘success’. Ultimately, this has had a detrimental impact on our feelings of self-worth.
Although perfectionism can occasionally lead to good outcomes or end-goals, generally the road to get there is rough and it’s more common for perfectionists to fall short of their target. The mindset of a perfectionist tends to prevent them from succeeding: procrastination, self-doubt, and overthinking acting as roadblocks to success.
It also takes a perfectionist a lot longer to carry out a task, only for them to be disappointed at their results. This disappointment is often redirected towards themselves or channelled towards others through anger.
I used to associate perfectionism with what are commonly considered OCD traits. I never considered myself a perfectionist because I don’t care if my hair is out of place, or my shirt is messy (things which aren’t essentially symptoms of OCD either).
The counselling service also offers a ‘Perfectionism and Procrastination’ workshop, a session which helps you to recognise the destructive nature of perfectionism and recommends techniques on how to tackle it
But, perfectionism is a lot more than being attentive and fastidious. I’m often overly optimistically about an unrealistic, unattainable goal. When I don’t meet it, I feel totally inadequate.
Fortunately, Cripps health service and the university Counselling Service are equipped to help student who are suffering with perfectionism. You can also speak to volunteers at student-led services too, such as NightLine or Student Minds.
The counselling service also offers a ‘Perfectionism and Procrastination’ workshop, a session which helps you to recognise the destructive nature of perfectionism and recommends techniques on how to tackle it.
It’s important to know that there is a difference between a conscientious approach towards your academic work and being a perfectionist because the latter can be extremely damaging to your mental wellbeing.
If you think you are struggling with perfectionism, then you’re not alone, but it’s a good idea to reach out for help all the same.
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