How Does Perfectionism Affect Our Mental Health?
I’ve been thinking quite a lot about what is healthy and unhealthy in terms of perfectionism. As someone who uses this drive for impeccability to propel themselves and their careers, I often find it hard to know when to stop.
We talk about perfectionism as that one stereotypical weakness we give at job interviews; a quirky yet harmless extension of our personalities. But perfectionism has developed a deep-rooted grasp on our psychological welfare as a society. I also realized that are drive for perfectionism and consumerism are deeply linked.
With the increasingly unbearable competition among millennials in an unstable job market coupled with the highly edited beauty and lifestyle images distributed by popular Instagram influencers, it’s no wonder millennials are so eager to be perfect.
According to an article published in the Psychological Bulletin, millennials – as opposed to previous generations – have higher rates of obsessive perfectionism across the board and in every category. While there are healthy levels of perfectionism that create an inner drive for us to succeed, a majority of us nurture these high expectations and allow them to grow to truly unachievable heights.
This has a number of negative psychological effects on the individual level but what we may not realize are the effects this worldwide perfectionism has created on society as a whole and the price we pay as consumers, literally and figuratively.
How Does Perfectionism Increase Consumerism?
We are obsessed with the newness of an idea. We replace old objects, thoughts, and social figures with fresh things because newness seems to hold some false promise of improvement. Then we buy new clothes, décor, beauty products etc. even if there was nothing wrong with the old ones.
This gives rise to the excessive consumerism that characterizes our society. The growth of fast fashion, which has led to massive amounts of clothing consumption and the accompanying increase of clothing in landfills, is just one example of the unfortunate effects of progressive perfectionism and consumerism.
Now thinking back to the individual, I can say my perfectionism has driven me to new levels of madness, I began to notice this in myself somewhere around my third year at FIT. Being thrown into a new reality where everything is based on performance, how many hours you put in, and the constant nagging thought ,“If you don’t do it, someone else will,” definitely changes you as a person.
This nagging level of perfectionism which has grown out of my work has branched into my daily life and routine. It has a correlated effect on the amount of new clothing I buy, the amount of makeup I use, and what I’ve learned to expect from my peers on a daily basis. Sadly, even though I know the cause and effects of this heavy obsession with perfection, it is not so easy to break ties with it.
So How Can We Fix It?
What we can do is allow ourselves a bit of a break. Understand that we can accept our flaws and mistakes with a disheveled grace. We can turn our “old” things into “new” things without trashing (or hopefully donating) them by changing our outlook. Believe me, a cultured nonchalance is much more attractive than an uptight perfectionist, pulling hair out with a finger constantly on the redo button.
While I have yet to conquer my own perfectionism, I am slowly realizing the appeal of the “imperfect.” Imperfection gives way to a new originality, a sort of thoughtful though effortless elegance. This idea holds true in work and in life.
Even in fashion, conventional good taste has proven to be fine but boring. The “originals” are the ones who found something old and changed the way people looked at it instead of changing the object itself. When I begin to hit a wall with my never-ending pursuit of perfection, I remember this: perfectionism inhibits creativity, there is an unusual beauty in not taking yourself too seriously, once you trust in yourself, others will trust in you too.