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In today’s world, being ambitious and goal oriented is certainly the need of the hour. People aspire to be perfect in everything they do. But sometimes they end up setting unrealistic expectations for themselves. Studies have shown a considerable rise in people suffering from serious depression and anxiety disorders. The constant need to be perfect in order to succeed leads to increased anxiety, fear of failure and in extreme cases, self-punishment. Being a millennial, I am one of the many people who would end up stating perfectionism as a strength and a weakness when asked about the same.
I feel the need to achieve perfection in every task undertaken by me, tasks like doing simple household chores or even completing a term paper assignment for an academic course. Many positive psychologists have felt the need to study perfectionism and its aspects and are trying to establish its relation with mental health and well being. Research has been carried out based on multidimensional models of perfectionism related to beliefs and behaviors.
Studies carried out on college students and athletes show that positive perfectionism improves psychological well being and negative perfectionism disturbs the psychological state of an individual. The paper aims to explore different types of perfectionism and how it affects the individual’s mental well being. It also focuses on studies carried out to show how perfectionism can be used constructively in accordance to positive psychology. IntroductionIn a world driven by fast paced competition and the desperate urge to please others, people end up setting high expectations for themselves in order to be flawless in everything.
People rely on over thinking and excessive harsh criticism of actions and behaviors so as to get better. An unending obsession of extremely demanding expectations and basing your self-worth on this obsession, hampers your well-being. Every single day is evaluated as a score sheet and the true essence of living a happy and satisfied life is inadvertently lost in striving for perfection. Being a part of the millennial generation, I constantly assess myself and aim for perfection, from keeping my apartment organized, getting dressed before leaving the house to achieving my academic and fitness goals. Due to my addiction to achieve perfection I unknowingly end up being a victim of overthinking and stress. Statistical data for the year 2015 shows that around 264 million people in the world are affected by anxiety and 322 million people suffer from depression (World Health Organization, 2017). There has been a significant rise in the awareness of achieving physical fitness while on the contrary, issues related to mental health are still under the influence of social stigma. Extreme obsession of proving one’s worth, gaining satisfactory validation regarding the same and branding one’s imperfections as hurdles in achieving the unrelenting heights for the standards set by oneself can lead to deterioration of mental health. Psychologists have been conducting extensive research in order to find out ways to help people suffering from various mental illnesses like hostility anxiety, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders etc. Study of perfectionism is attracting psychologists due to its paradoxical nature. The understanding of perfectionism has evolved with time. Earlier, it was perceived to be uni-dimensional, having an exclusively detrimental impact on the well being of an individual. Later studies have thrown some light on the fact that perfectionism can be positive and this resulted into its categorization according to the way it affects mental well being of different individuals (Newman et al., 2019). Perfectionism takes a destructive form when pursuit of excellence leads to perfectionists constantly pushing themselves to meet their desired goals which eventually takes them down the path of unhappiness and dissatisfaction. This extreme level of being judgmental of one’s performance can lead to frustration, repetitive assessing of tasks, procrastination and takes a toll on the overall health of an individual. Recent research has challenged this negative branding of perfectionism and has portrayed it as an adaptive trait where perfectionist striving enables people to constantly challenge their abilities, master new skills and achieve good results. Adaptive perfectionism has a positive effect and can theoretically enhance mental well being leading to increased satisfaction in life (Birch et al., 2019). Experimental ResearchIn order to gain in depth understanding of the multivariate personality trait called perfectionism, different combination of models and their subdomains have been studied extensively. To assess perfectionism on the basis of an individual’s convictions, opinions and demeanor, the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (MPS) developed by researchers Paul Hewitt and Gordon Flett considers three types of perfectionism: socially prescribed, self oriented and other oriented. (Curran & Hill, 2019). When perfectionists consider their social evaluation to be of utmost importance and feel that acrimonious judgment of others causes them to better themselves consistently in order to receive approval on the social platform of life, they are under the influence of socially prescribed perfectionism. Engaging in strict self evaluation and imposing harsh punishments so as to meet impractically high levels of performance standards is self oriented perfectionism. Other oriented perfectionism is of interpersonal nature leading to distrust and hostility towards people if they fail to deliver excellent results (Hewitt & Flett, 1991). A study conducted by Newman et al. (2019) on undergraduate students opting for courses in psychology at a public college in Northeastern United States, focused on the scrutiny of how emotions, notions, and behavior of college students contributes to different expressions of perfectionism. About 410 participants undertook questionnaire based assessment on perfectionism; affective correlates like emotion regulation; behavioral correlates like procrastination, obsessive compulsive behavior and motivated strategies; cognitive correlates like perfectionist cognition, behavioral activation and inhibition. In order to determine correlation between perfectionism and indicators of well being, the participants had to answer questionnaires based on well being and symptomatology like depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self punishment, interpersonal competence and academic performance. This led to the formulation of four profiles surrounding perfectionism ” obsessive, constructive, non-perfectionist and motivated. Students with an obsession for perfection showed a good academic record by implementation of scheduling techniques, but experienced severe mental disturbance when things did not go as per plan and could not deal with past failures. Constructive perfectionists experienced more happiness, less anxiety and did not contemplate past mistakes and behaviors. Students who were motivated perfectionists engaged in conscientious decision making and showed positive interpersonal competency (Newman et al., 2019). This research established the relation between different types of perfectionism portrayed by college students and its effects on their cognitive health. The study should have been more comprehensive in terms of academic performance of the students having different profiles of perfectionism. As today’s youth focuses more on results, evaluation of perfectionist striving with respect to academic achievement would have presented a bigger picture of how aiming for perfection affects life of college students. In the field of sport psychology, the resilience and never say die’ attitude of athletes and sportsmen and how they react to hurdles is a major topic of research. To discern whether perfectionism plays any role in how athletes behave during adversity, a study was conducted on 239 intercollegiate team sport athletes. Participants answered questionnaires to assess perfectionist striving and perfectionist concerns along with self compassion, optimism and rumination. Perfectionist concerns lead to the rise of pessimism and caused athletes to brood over their failures. Athletes who showed higher levels of the urge to attain perfection demonstrated positive increase in self compassion and optimism. But this study could not support the its hypothesis that striving for perfection would decrease contemplation of past mistakes. The results showed that perfectionist striving certainly had minute positive impacts on rumination. The study failed to consider the setting in which the athletes perform, their behavior can be different during training sessions and in competitive settings (Lizmore et al., 2017). The notion of perfectionism being a demon and destroying cognitive and emotional well being of individuals is being challenged by researchers studying positive psychology. Suh et al. (2017) conducted a qualitative analysis on different classes of perfectionists and their well being. Similar to perfectionism, mental well being and meaning of life also has multidimensional attributes. Eudaimonic well being focuses on the true meaning of life and hedonic well being relates with subjective happiness and life satisfaction. The study was based on the hypotheses that maladaptive perfectionists would constantly search for meaning in life and have lesser life satisfaction and happiness compared to adaptive perfectionists and non-perfectionists, while adaptive perfectionists would be much more happy and satisfied with their life. A total of 276 undergraduate college students took an online survey based on questionnaires regarding perfectionism scales, personality traits, happiness and life satisfaction. Since the participants were college students integrated in a high achieving setting, the research could relate perfectionist tendency with the students’ perception of life and happiness. Adaptive perfectionists had higher levels of self efficacy and aspire to learn from challenges and failures showing a better understanding of the meaning of life. The tendency to search for meaning and satisfaction in life was observed to be high in students showing disruptive forms of perfectionism as they harbored pessimistic views of themselves (Suh et al., 2017). Benefits of perfectionism in terms of PERMA (positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishments) model of well being were presented by Birch et al., (2019) in their survey carried out on college students. Basic hypothesis from earlier studies stating that other oriented perfectionism does not have any significant effect on the PERMA model of well being was challenged as the results showed that other oriented perfectionists had higher levels of meaning, accomplishment and overall well being. To convert perfectionism into a positive attribute for well being, there should be a strong control on perfectionist concerns (Birch et al., 2019).ConclusionExperimental studies have been consistent with the view of perfectionism haunting individuals and degrading their mental health. Various profiles of perfectionism have different consequences on the emotional and cognitive structure of individuals. These experiments revolved around perfectionism in college students. In order to have a better understanding of the relationship between perfectionism and well being, studies should include the general population. Well being is s subjective term and should be clearly explained considering demographic variations throughout the world. Maladaptive perfectionism based on fear of failure, associating self worth with performance and setting rigid high standards certainly has a negative impact on well being. Adaptive perfectionism based on striving for excellence, performance independent of self worth and balanced outlook leads to happiness and satisfaction in life. It is difficult to completely eradicate perfectionism, but with the help of psychological research, destructive profiles of perfectionism can certainly be turned into adaptive profiles so as to reduce stress, depression and anxiety in individuals. When people seem to be under stress in order to meet deadlines or achieve certain ambitious goals, they need to focus on how the process can add to their overall development rather that focusing on results. People with higher levels of perfectionism will typically be ambitious, hard-working, and diligent and if they are met with mild judgments and positive support, they can certainly achieve their goals without hampering their mental health. There is certainly the need to assess perfectionist tendencies at a nascent stage in order to give them right direction so as to achieve optimistic results in all spheres of life.
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