Perfectionism and Its Connection to Suicide

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Perfectionism and Its Connection to Suicide

A barricade sign for perfection / Photo by Shutterstock


There is nothing wrong with striving for excellence, but the paralyzing fear of committing mistakes is another thing altogether. Due to being oblivious to this fact, perfectionism is a trait that is highly-esteemed by the majority of the public. According to Sherry Walling, author of the article Perfectionism: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, it is even associated with being detail-oriented, having high standards and a commitment to excellence. However, this obsession with perfection places unattainable demands and pressures on people. Individuals who feel that these pressures are insurmountable soon find themselves wanting to end it. As a result, they resort to suicide which they view as the only solution to their problems.

According to the World Health Organization, suicide takes someone’s life every 45 seconds. Independent says that a study conducted by the University of Western Ontario reveals that 68% of adolescents committed suicide because they felt that there were high demands and expectations forced upon them. These were found to be characteristics associated with perfectionism.

It is time to expose perfectionism for what it really is and why perfectionists have a higher tendency to give up their lives.


The Reality of Perfectionism

To lay the foundation for why perfectionism is destructive and fatal instead of motivational, Paul Hewitt and Gordon Flett, professors of psychology in York University say that perfectionism comes in different flavors, each associated with different problems. As cited by the American Psychological Association, Hewitt argues that true perfectionism is not adaptive. He also claimed that the desire to excel and the desire to be perfect are completely different things.

According to Walling, a clinical psychologist and author, real perfectionism springs from the fear of failing. She also adds that it implies crippling rigidity. To affirm Hewitt’s statement, she says that it is maladaptive in nature, which she explains means that the person has difficulty in adjusting to the appropriate environment or situation. She further explains that because of this, even when the situation has changed and achieving that goal has already become virtually impossible, a perfectionist will stick to their high and unrealistic standards which they have set for themselves. As a continuation, she also refers to Andrew Phil and Thomas Curran’s study which indicates that perfectionism in the current generation has been increasing. According to The Guardian, perfectionism in students by 33% since 1989. They also reported that his could lead to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and depression.

To support this, Curran and Phil declared that multidimensional perfectionism, as they have labeled it, or the pressure that people feel to meet increasingly high standards across a widening range metrics, was linked to an increase of cases of mental illnesses. Furthermore, they stated that the mental illnesses and other disorders related to multidimensional perfectionism were depression, anxiety and eating disorders which they noted were common among people in their twenties. In addition, participants of the research were shown to feel that they needed to measure up to their peers while being their own worst critics.



Kinds of Perfectionism

In relation to this, Hewitt and Flett said that there were three kinds of perfectionism.

To enumerate, here is a list of its categories:

1. Socially prescribed perfectionism

This kind of perfectionism involves a person having the belief that others will only see their worth if they are perfect. This has been linked to problems such as depression which may cause an individual to commit suicide. Flett further expounds on this by saying that the reason for this being linked to depression and suicide is that it includes a sense of pressure and a feeling of despair and helplessness. He also says that socially prescribed perfectionists think, “The better I do, the better I’m expected to do.”


2. Other-oriented perfectionism

On the other hand, this type of perfectionism demands perfection from family, friends, co-workers and everyone else. Hewitt states that being an other-oriented perfectionists may have the tendency to have conflicts in their intimate relationships.


3. Self-oriented perfectionism

Lastly, this sort of perfectionism is defined as an internally motivated desire to be perfect. Although some studies like Hewitt’s and Flett’s, have shown that self-oriented can be connected to eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, other researches have not proven that link. They assert that self-oriented perfectionists may do well in situations of low stressed, but they are also more prone to having depression, anxiety and becoming suicidal when situations spiral out of their control.


How to Overcome Perfectionism

Since it has been clarified that perfectionism is actually a flaw and not an asset, the next move will be to find ways to overcome it.

According to Vicki Howie, author of 5 Ways You Can Pursue Excellence Without Falling Into Perfectionism, here are the steps to take for one who struggles with it:

1. Have a passionate vision for the direction of a project, but keep it loose.

2. Do their best and consider mistakes as possible gifts.

3. Know when enough is enough.

4. Collaborate with easy-going and fun-loving people.

5. Purposely make mistakes so that you will feel comfortable unintentional blunders.


Seek Excellence, Not Perfection

To conclude, human beings are imperfect and to seek perfection in oneself and others can only cause problems, frustrations, mental illnesses, and become a reason for suicide.

Perfectionism, which can also be described as the fear of being imperfect or committing imperfections, is not a trait to be advocated. It is, at its core, unhealthy and inflexible as proven by many scholars. Research has shown that expecting perfection from humans, who are imperfect beings, will not only affect a person mentally but also physically.

Instead of committing to perfectionism which has lead to the demise of many, experts like Howie recommend that it is more beneficial to seek excellence because it gives more space to make mistakes and keep an open mind.


Surround yourself with fun-loving people / Photo by Shutterstock




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