Whilst writing this brings up my perfectionist tendencies, as a mother of three teenagers in the ‘selfie’ generation and a ‘recovering perfectionist’ I feel compelled to write an opinion piece about perfectionism – the forgotten addiction. This is my imperfect opinion so be gentle please!
The pervasiveness and problems of perfection are not often talked about, with the last splurge of media interest being around 2018. However, this addiction has not died out and based on previous research is likely to get worse. Perfectionism is often linked to traditional addictions such as over-exercising.
However, it is also likely that perfectionism is actually, at the very least, one of the root causes of all other addictions. This is why it needs another, loud ‘in our face’ discussion. If only to let perfectionists know they are not alone, especially as perfectionism is one of life’s stressors.
In my generation, one of the causes of perfectionism in women was a feeling that we had to be ‘Superwoman’, i.e. a perfect wife, mother, worker, and all at the same time. With this era being pre-social media, it was traditional media that contributed with numerous articles about women supposedly ‘having it all’.
Thanks to a rebellion against the pressure to be ‘Superwoman’ (think ‘Bad Moms’ movie), this ‘Superwoman’ pressure has abated somewhat, as we realise the women ‘having it all’ are likely to be having it with a side of anxiety.
For today’s millennials the more readily available social media is feeding into the perfectionism addiction with its current theme of perfectionism. This isn’t just because of the plethora of ‘perfect selfies’, but also due to a perceived need for a ‘perfect’ social media pages and numerous celebrities posting only the most perfect visual portrayals of their lives.
Unlike other addictions, there is a ‘good’ side to perfectionism with the healthy form giving us the drive to start and complete tasks to the best of our ability. If it wasn’t for perfectionism, we probably wouldn’t have the lightbulb (thanks to Edison’s perfectionism, he created a lightbulb after thousands of attempts). Roger Bannister wouldn’t have broken the 4-minute mile if it wasn’t for a touch of perfectionism.
The problems of perfectionism include it being a stressor, in that it usually causes the release of stress hormones. This occurs if the person feels that they haven’t achieved perfectionism or perceive that others feel they have not achieved perfectionism. Negative perfectionism is also linked to negative self-esteem, rumination over perceived mistakes and procrastination (for fear of not getting things perfect).
In addition, a meta-analysis, in 2016 highlighted links between perfectionism and various forms of psychopathology, including eating disorders, depression, anxiety disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, with another meta-analysis showing links between perfectionism and suicidality.
Perfectionism doesn’t just impact on the perfectionist, as most tend to not only have higher expectations of themselves but also of others. This usually impacts the people close to them, with family and friends bearing the brunt of the perfectionists’ unrealistic expectations.
In addition, with many of my colleagues reporting that recent generations of young people are more perfectionist in their demands on them, perfectionists affect remote relationships too. I have heard too many of my colleagues stating they dread seeing millennials because of their more demanding, perfectionist nature.
It’s not just patients’ expectations of us that creates added stress for healthcare workers. As an industry we tend to attract more than our fair share of perfectionists. With a shortage of healthcare workers, perfectionism in both patients and healthcare workers needs addressing now.
Lastly, whilst we should always aim to give our best, please get intimate with imperfection and grab onto ‘good-enoughism’. You are human after all.
In the next column I will give tips on how to manage perfectionism. but in the interim for help with dealing with stress, please see either your GP, practice nurse, after-hours services (including 111) or contact the following organisations:
· Lifeline:0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
· Asian Helpline: 0800 862 342
· Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7).
· Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
· Rural Support Trust: 0800 787 254
· Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (Monday-Friday, 1-10pm. Saturday-Sunday, 3-10pm)
· Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)
· Samaritans: 0800 726 666.