Perfectionism doesn’t always spell perfection


It’s no secret CHS is full of perfectionists. From freaking out if a poster isn’t perfectly straight to restarting a project with one minor flaw, perfection lurks behind every paper and deadline.

At a school where anything below a 90 feels like a failure, it’s hard not to strive for perfection. Unfortunately, perfectionism, or the “disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable,” as defined by Merriam Webster, is often a gateway to more serious issues.

Some people equate perfection with success, and therefore happiness, but this is a dangerous misconception. On the contrary, researchers have found that perfectionism may be to blame for a rise in mental illness. Striving for impossible standards “correlates with depression, anxiety, eating disorders and other mental health problems,” according to psychologist Gordon Flett, PhD.

It’s not just CHS, either: “As many as two in five kids and adolescents are perfectionists,” said Katie Rasmussen, a child development and perfectionism researcher at the West Virginia University.

With an increase in the amount of children and teenagers aiming for these idealistic standards, it’s no surprise the fixation has developed to encompass both healthy and unhealthy behaviors.

There are two main kinds of perfectionism: adaptive perfectionism and maladaptive perfectionism, according to Owen Kelly, PhD. Adaptive, or healthy perfectionism, is “characterized by having high standards for yourself as well as others, persistence in the face of adversity, and conscientiousness.” It typically accompanies setting goals.

Maladaptive perfectionism, on the other hand, is “characterized by excessive preoccupation with past mistakes, fears about making new mistakes, doubts about whether you are doing something correctly and being heavily invested in the high expectations of others,” according to Kelly. This is the type of perfectionism that coincides with mental health issues.

If you’re wondering if you’re a perfectionist with maladaptive tendencies, consider that true perfectionism is rooted in a “mindset that’s propelled by a crippling fear of failure…[and] conditional self-worth,” according to Elizabeth Lombardo, a clinical psychologist and author. While striving to be the best version of yourself is beneficial and aligns with adaptive perfectionism, it is when you lose sight of these intentions that perfectionism becomes dangerous.

But, perfectionists need not worry: psychologists and mental health professionals advocate for a number of solutions to help overcome the fear of failure. These remedies include focusing on the parts of a task that are enjoyable or meditating during breaks, according to Olivia Remes, an anxiety and depression researcher at the University of Cambridge. Even simply going outside can make a big difference.

In a high-stress environment like CHS, it’s difficult to avoid the pitfalls of perfectionism. As the school year begins and your workload increases, remember that it’s important to not only work hard, but play hard, too.