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4 perfectionism myths that need busting

Our society places such a high value on perfectionism that candidates at job interviews cite it as their “major failing” when trying to make a good impression. In reality, perfectionism is a byword for mental suffering, under-performance and inability to adapt. So, you need to shoot it down…

Perfectionists are often portrayed and promoted as people who have high standards. The pursuit of perfectionism urges them on to commit themselves body and soul, to go that extra mile and to get the best out of others. Isn’t that just great? No! In reality it’s toxic and counter-productive, often the root cause of individual and collective failure.

Myth No. 1: Perfectionism is all about personality

Perfectionism is in part a personality trait: we’re all perfectionists to one degree or another and in different ways. But there is also a social dimension to perfectionism, which is grossly under-estimated: our culture places great store in it, always encouraging us to do more and better.

First and foremost, perfectionism is a societal problem.
We’re encouraged to be perfect in all sorts of ways: we’re surrounded by “influencers”, books on personal development, adverts and even annual assessments that constantly push us to tackle our shortcomings and aim for perfection. We’re bombarded with people telling us to be more resilient, think positively and shine brightly… a trend that is on the rise. When job applicants are asked what their greatest weakness is, many reply “I’m a perfectionist” – as if hoping to make perfectionism sound like a noteworthy attribute. And this

The social pressure is getting stronger.
A comparative study has shown that there has been a sharp rise in perfectionism resulting from social pressure: it grew by 40% between 1988 and 2020, whereas personality-linked perfectionism only increased by 2 to 3% over the same period. Psychologists talk about an “invisible epidemic” when describing this exponential phenomenon. What’s more, perfectionism is on the rise specifically among young people (which was the case even before the Covid pandemic), where it gives rise to anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. Two out of five children and teenagers suffer from it today. Society’s expectations go way beyond everyone’s capabilities.

The 3 forms of perfectionism

Perfectionism is rooted in a difficult relationship with oneself and others, which comes out in three ways:

  • Self-directed perfectionism: “I owe it to myself to be perfect. I set high – sometimes unachievable – standards for myself.”
  • Socially prescribed perfectionism: “Other people expect me to be perfect. I have a strong sense that I have to conform to social pressure and be endlessly perfect at every level. I have to keep any faults or failures under wraps.”
  • Other-directed perfectionism: “I expect other people to be perfect. I have high standards, and everybody around me knows it.”

Each of these three types of perfectionism can be found in you to varying degrees.

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Florence Meyer
Published by Florence Meyer
Executive coach, change management expert, and author. Constantly on the lookout for the latest management and leadership trends.