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.

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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.

Study: Perfectionism Among the Young Has Significantly Increased Since the 1980s

It seems as if the policies of neoliberalism had a major role in these unhealthy manifestations. 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.

The drive to be perfect in body, mind and career among today’s college students has significantly increased compared with prior generations, which may be taking a toll on young people’s mental health, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

This study is the first to examine group generational differences in perfectionism, according to lead author Thomas Curran, PhD, of the University of Bath. He and his co-author Andrew Hill, PhD, of York St John University suggest that perfectionism entails “an irrational desire to achieve along with being overly critical of oneself and others.”

Curran and Hill analyzed data from 41,641 American, Canadian and British college students from 164 samples who completed the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale, a test for generational changes in perfectionism, from the late 1980s to 2016. They measured three types of perfectionism: self-oriented, or an irrational desire to be perfect; socially prescribed, or perceiving excessive expectations from others; and other-oriented, or placing unrealistic standards on others.

The study, published in the journal Psychological Bulletin, found that more recent generations of college students reported significantly higher scores for each form of perfectionism than earlier generations. Specifically, between 1989 and 2016, the self-oriented perfectionism score increased by 10 percent, socially prescribed increased by 33 percent and other-oriented increased by 16 percent.

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The increase in perfectionism may in part be affecting the psychological health of students, said Hill, citing higher levels of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts than a decade ago.

Hill urged schools and policymakers to curb fostering competition among young people in order to preserve good mental health.