The perfection complex


Elizabeth Selberg, Staff Writer


The age-old philosophy of striving for absolute perfection. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But perfectionism runs deeper than just trying to get straight A’s; it involves a person’s interpretation of his or her own worth based on levels of success.

To analyze the benefits and hazards linked with perfectionism, it must first be defined.

Perfectionism is an idea that has been blown up by media and society to the point where it has lost its true definition. It has morphed to mean something larger, more widespread, less hazardous, and almost a desirable trait. However, the true meaning of perfectionism is the refusal of anything short of perfection.

The problem with this? Perfection is an unobtainable standard in almost all situations, so when one creates the expectation of never messing up, it creates an impossible goal.

More often than not, perfectionism is confused with wanting to be the best people can be. It entails working hard to achieve the desired results and the value of doing the best possible. The difference is in the reaction. Driven people will understand that they tried their best, but they are not perfect, so they will use the failure as a chance for growth. A perfectionist hitches his or her idea of self-worth on success, so in the case that they do not achieve perfection, they take it out on themselves.

A closer examination into students and perfectionism shows that often-times, it is prompted by standards which are set by parents that result in the student’s unrealistic expectations for themselves. In a survey conducted online at school, 80% of participants said that they receive outside pressure to perform well at school or work, and all but one cited their parents as a cause of stress and/or pressure.

These comments highlight the far too common belief or norm in society that individuals are only as good as their accomplishments. Whether conscious or not, many parents push their children to their limits in an attempt to “prepare them for life” or ensure that they will be successful. The fault comes in that society values a person’s work over their sense of self. Students grow up being taught that the most important things in life are education, family, or being “successful” (an already debatable term), but nobody teaches them to care about themselves.

Regardless of plausible causes, studies clearly show that perfectionism is a dangerous ideology and can lead to vulnerability for mental illness.

As explained in “The Many Faces of Perfectionism” published by the American Psychology Association, there is a clear correlation between perfectionism and mental illness most simply because of the perfectionist mindset. When there is an expectation of perfection, it not only damages self-worth, often prompting depressed or even suicidal thoughts, but it can also be projected onto others which results in damaged relationships.

The debate around perfectionism continues to thrive among scholars and scientists alike, but one thing is clear. Perfectionism may have what seem to be beneficial qualities, but they come at the cost of the individual. No amount of effort or desire to do the best possible can replace someone’s happiness or well-being.

Even after a perfectionist has reached the invisible line of success, they may not find the feeling of satisfaction they expected. This is because true success is found in failing and using that failure to improve. It is not just getting that 100%, it’s working hard to get it and then celebrating the accomplishment. Just like Michael Jordan said, “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”