Perfectionism as a health risk

While we’re often told, “nobody’s perfect,” that doesn’t stop people from trying. Lofty goals can lead to great achievements and high-self-esteem, but they can also lead to negative effects such as mental and physical health problems.

Many studies suggest that perfectionists are at higher risk of suffering from stress, eating disorders, and depression. As Jeff Szymanski, executive director of the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation, says in a Boston Globe article, "Perfectionism is a phobia of mistake-making. It is the feeling that 'If I make a mistake, it will be catastrophic.'"

In an article for LiveScience, Rachael Rettner discusses the results of a study of 100 first-time mothers in Canada, suggesting that women can suffer from “socially prescribed perfectionism,” feeling pressure from others to be perfect. The study found the strongest link between perfectionism and postpartum depression in women who cope by acting as if they had no problems.

In a separate article, Rettner notes that some people compound the problem by trying to maintain the appearance of perfection. Many perfectionists will not seek support and may even distance themselves from friends and family in an attempt to avoid offers of help.

While there is no definitive origin of perfectionism, experts have pointed to aspects of parenting and genetics. According to Alice Domar, executive director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health in Boston, it is more commonly found in women.

To find out if you have perfectionist tendencies, York University psychology professor and perfectionist expert Gordon Flett has devised a list of ten signs:

*Top Ten Signs Your a Perfectionist

  1. You can’t stop thinking about a mistake you made.
  2. You are intensely competitive and can’t stand doing worse than others.
  3. You either want to do something "just right" or not at all.
  4. You demand perfection from other people.
  5. You won’t ask for help if asking can be perceived as a flaw or weakness.
  6. You will persist at a task long after other people have quit.
  7. You are a fault-finder who must correct other people when they are wrong.
  8. You are highly aware of other people’s demands and expectations.
  9. You are very self-conscious about making mistakes in front of other people.
  10. *You noticed the error in the title of this list.

–Ann L. Whitman

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