The Link Between Perfectionism, Anxiety and Depression
Perfectionism creates anxiety and depression.
Not all people who have anxiety or depression are perfectionists, but many people who are perfectionists are anxious and/or depressed.
Perfectionism is a tough taskmaster. The drive to be perfect and have everything around you be perfect is a ball and chain that holds you back and bogs you down.
The truth is, you can’t be perfect. Other people can’t be perfect. Things can’t go perfectly.
What's in This Post
|Toxic Side Effects of Being a Perfectionist|
|Can Perfectionism Kill You?|
|Shift Your Goal from Perfection to Excellence|
|How to Overcome Perfectionism|
Disclaimer: The contents of this article should not be taken as therapy or medical advice. It is advised that you seek individualized care with mental health professionals.
You may also find my Quotes to Inspire You to Stop Toxic Perfectionism post interesting.
Perfectionism researchers Thomas Curran and Andrew Hill define perfectionism as "a combination of excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations."
Sometimes perfectionistic standards are kept personal, but I also see that perfectionists often don't confine the excessive high standards and criticism to just themselves. They are often also frustrated by people close to them not meeting their unreasonable standards.
Toxic Side Effects of Being a Perfectionist
Perfectionists can have the mistaken belief that their drive for perfection helps them be a better person and helps them achieve more.
In reality, perfectionism gets in the way of self-improvement and achievement since it sets unreasonable, unattainable standards and turns mistakes into fatal blows.
Perfectionists are chronically frustrated, disappointed, overwhelmed, self-shamed, and anxious. Any of these emotions may get turned into anger (which is a secondary emotion) and show up as irritability, seething anger, or rage.
The emotional pain associated with perfectionism undermines mental health.
"There are studies that suggest that the higher the perfectionism is, the more psychological disorders you’re going to suffer."– Sarah Egan, Curtin University in Perth, Australia
Can Perfectionism Kill You?
I've long known that perfectionism can kill a sense of accomplishment, self-esteem, and relationships. I was shocked to discover that perfectionism can actually lead to death.
Besides anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues, perfectionism has also been linked to suicide.
The Alaska Suicide Follow-back Study looked into traits of 56 people who died by suicide. Over 50% of the deceased were described by family as perfectionists.
In a different study, Canadian professors reviewed the research of others and found that the collective results confirmed that a disproportionate number of people who are suicidal have perfectionistic beliefs and traits.
In the article reporting their findings, they posed the question, "So, why is perfectionism associated with thinking about, attempting, and even completing suicide?" and answered it this way:
"Perfectionists are their own worst critics—good enough is never enough. Consequently, the typical perfectionist is locked in an endless loop of self-defeating over-striving in which each new task is another opportunity for harsh self rebuke, disappointment, and failure. In addition, black-and-white thinking can lead perfectionists to interpret failures as catastrophes."
|If you have suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.|
Shift Your Goal from Perfection to Excellence
Excellence is a worthy goal. Perfection is not.
Excellence is achieving to the best of your ability under the circumstances. Excellence allows for balancing of priorities and acknowledgement of the various aspects of each unique situation.
Here’s a look at the excellence continuum:
Many people tend to think dichotomously—that is, to see only two options for things. ("Di" means two.) Black-and-white, dichotomous thinkers might think that if they don’t want to be one thing, then they have to be its opposite.
If someone only sees the ends of the excellence continuum, they think that being anything less than perfect means they are an abject failure.
In reality, both ends of the continuum are unhealthy. Healthy lies somewhere in the middle—in the green zone.
If you are anxious or depressed and recognize that you are perfectionistic, you may benefit from examining why you have that drive and consider adjusting your goals to put you in the green zone.
There are other labels that could be used for the ends of the continuum.
|The Abject Failure End||The Perfection End|
If a person feels “not good enough,” dichotomous thinking can drive them to perfection in attempts to quiet that fatally flawed feeling. Everything short of perfection can pick at that wound and be intolerably painful.
How to Overcome Perfectionism
1. Start to catch yourself at dichotomous thinking.
Notice when you see only two options for things and ask yourself if there is something in-between those two options. (Try to see the continuum of possibilities.)
2. Try to get into the excellence green zone.
Notice that the green zone is big. It isn't a tiny pivot point. Sometimes the ideal excellence goal for a situation will be on one end of the green zone, sometimes at the other. It moves around according to situations and circumstances.
3. Repair what drives your perfectionism.
Work on discovering what might be driving you to perfection and/or making you feel like an abject failure. Expose and heal related old wounds and question unhealthy core beliefs that run on a loop in your mind.
I included worksheets for overcoming perfectionism in my anxiety workbook, Becoming Calm.
- Ann Silvers