Self-Compassion May Help Protect People from the Harmful Effects of Perfectionism

Perfectionism has increased among young people since 1980, as has been shown recently. Perfectionism does have a healthier strain, but it should be noted that it can also be quite unhealthy. The self-compassion must allow people to more easily forgive themselves for not always being perfect.


Relating to oneself in a healthy way can help weaken the association between perfectionism and depression, according to a study published February 21, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Madeleine Ferrari from Australian Catholic University, and colleagues.

Perfectionistic people often push themselves harder than others to succeed, but can also fall into the trap of being self-critical and overly concerned about making mistakes. When the perfectionist fails, they often experience depression and burnout. In this study, Ferrari and colleagues considered whether self-compassion, a kind way of relating to oneself, might help temper the link between perfectionist tendencies and depression.

The researchers administered anonymous questionnaires to assess perfectionism, depression, and self-compassion across 541 adolescents and 515 adults. Their analyses of these self-assessments revealed that self-compassion may help uncouple perfectionism and depression.

The replication of this finding in two groups of differently-aged people suggests that self-compassion may help moderate the link between perfectionism and depression across the lifespan. The authors suggest that self-compassion interventions could be a useful way to undermine the effects of perfectionism, but future experimental or intervention research is needed to fully assess this possibility.

“Self-compassion, the practice of self-kindness, consistently reduces the strength of the relationship between maladaptive perfectionism and depression for both adolescents and adults,” says lead author Madeleine Ferrari.

The increases in perfectionism among young people since 1980 are probably caused by the policies of neoliberalism, which began to be implemented much more around 1980 and basically represent undermining mechanisms of social solidarity in society. Also, this is what I wrote when addressing perfectionism and neoliberalism last month: “I have thought for years now that there is generally too much competition and not enough cooperation in society today, which is part of the reason I advocate for reforms such as increasing the use of democratic co-operatives.”

My other advice to people who have struggled with unhealthy variants of perfectionism in the past — as I have — is to simply try to first do well, but maybe not quite to the highest standard you know you’re capable of, and then after that decide if you want to improve what you were doing any further. There are times when it’s much better to do something at 80 to 90 percent of your potential instead of not doing it at all. Experiences (and doing something at 80 to 90 percent rather than not at all is an experience) can be immensely valuable, and based on the findings that show a lot of millennials are prioritizing experiences over traditional gifts, there should be an improving understanding of this.

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