What is Perfectionism?
WebMD notes that perfectionism is the tendency to expect perfect results, actions, and behaviors. It describes the need to accomplish everything, on time, without fault. It is signaled by an intense drive and consistent effort to achieve incredible results. However, it also leads to cycles of disappointment when those goals are not met. Perfectionism can lead people to feel like a failure after making one mistake, resulting in feeling unbalanced and anxious.
Women and Perfectionism
According to Time Magazine, women tend to struggle more with self-assurance and confidence than men, leading to perfectionistic tendencies. Women don’t feel they have the right to ask for help because of the intrinsic pressure to be perfect on their own. For generations, young girls and women have been expected to be “perfect” in every way, placing this immense pressure from a young age. They are pressured to have the perfect body and be ideal friends and mothers.
Dr. Brene Brown’s research has shown that women’s three main perfectionism struggles are:
- Body image
According to Dr. Brown, women sell themselves short, discounting their worth and value when they cannot manage all these roles. This leads to extra pressure as women often have to juggle their invisible work (caregiving, emotional labor, etc.) and paid work without acknowledging the time, care, and energy that their unpaid work costs. On the flip side, when women do not immediately jump to caregiving, they are seen as standoffish, ungrateful, and selfish, leading to a cycle of negative self-talk.
Perfectionism and Social Media
Social media creates a distorted image that everyone lives their best, fullest life. But we may not see the full picture. We see women with perfectly shaped bodies traveling abroad, being successful as caregivers and in their careers, and feeling like we have to continue working to reach that same goal. Dr. Jeremy Tyler notes that this comparison may lead to a fear of missing out and not being good enough. According to Psychology Today, women make appearance-focused upward comparisons to the women they see on their screens, leading women to feel less worthy. Body shaming is especially prevalent on social media and shames women for feeling less confident.
Perfectionism and Mental Health
Perfectionism may feel like an isolated issue, but many people, especially women, struggle with it. It impacts our mental health by placing unattainable expectations on us, leading to a cycle of disappointment, failure, and despair. This version of self-critical perfectionism is connected to higher rates of depression for young girls, according to Psychology Today. Perfectionism is also linked to higher rates of anxiety and physical problems, including headaches, insomnia, and body aches. Perfectionism can serve as the underlying cause of mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.
Ways to Let Go of Perfectionism
The following techniques can be used to let go of perfectionism:
- Realize our shame triggers, practice critical awareness, and set attainable goals for ourselves.
- Change our own expectations of ourself to change the narrative, gain confidence and feel better about ourself.
- Ask for help. We will never be perfect, but that can be difficult to acknowledge.
- Accept that we will disappoint others and that’s okay, and thereby build resilience in dealing with the constant negative narrative.
- Realize our strengths and how we can work with others to attain our goals together.
When we are more self-compassionate, we can continue to fulfill our various roles and contribute to a better society.
Frequently Ask Questions
Signs of perfectionism include:
- Having high expectations with a desire to constantly prove our worth
- Being self-critical
- Having a deep fear of failure
- Taking a longer time to complete a task
- Only valuing the end product rather than the contributions or process
Causes of perfectionism are:
- Social pressures
- Low confidence
- Feeling the need to please others
- Low self-esteem
Perfectionism is a detriment to our mental health. It is linked to more serious mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. It can also lead to:
- Increased stress
- Relationship issues
Social media places disproportionate pressure on women to attain perfect beauty standards. It creates this endless comparison cycle, leaving women feeling conflicted between harming themselves in an attempt to attain those standards and having lower self-esteem.
The information on this page, or elsewhere on this site, is not intended to take the place of diagnosis, treatment or informed advice from a qualified mental health professional. You should not take or avoid any action without consultation with the latter.
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Bennet, J. (2014, April 24). It’s not you. It’s science: How Perfectionism holds women back. Time. https://time.com/70558/its-not-you-its-science-how-perfectionism-holds-women-back/
Brennan, D. (2021, August 4). How to overcome perfectionism. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/how-to-overcome-perfectionism
Davis, P. (2014, July 18). 3 big perfectionism struggles for women. Psychology Today.
Engeln, R. (2021, December 8). Perfectionism makes social media use more toxic for girls. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/beauty-sick/202112/perfectionism-makes-social-media-use-more-toxic-girls
Messinger, H. (2019, November 19). Dis-like: How social media feeds into perfectionism. Penn Medicine News. https://www.pennmedicine.org/news/news-blog/2019/november/dis-like-how-social-media-feeds-into-perfectionism