Perfectionism Leads to Poor Health

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
7/27/2010 10:14 AM   :  87 comments   :  17,571 Views

In many ways, I consider myself to be a perfectionist. I work very hard to be a good employee, good mother, good spouse, etc. I'm slightly fanatic about having a clean and orderly house (which is no small feat with two little kids), and I'm not good at sitting down and relaxing. I always feel like there's something I could (or should) be doing instead. I get stressed out about these things from time to time (okay, actually it's often), and I know it's not healthy. New research is confirming what I would have suspected: perfectionists tend to be in worse physical health and increase their risk of death.

If you're someone who puts pressure on yourself to succeed, it's very stressful when you make mistakes or don't reach a goal you've set. Logic tells us that no one is perfect, and mistakes are inevitable. But that doesn't mean it's easy when it happens to you- especially if you strive to do everything well. Experts say that "Perfectionism tends to have two components: a positive side, including things like setting high standards for themselves; and a negative side, which involves more deleterious factors, such as having doubts and concerns over mistakes and feeling pressure from others to be perfect."

Researchers at Trinity Western University in Canada followed 450 adults, ages 65 and older, for 6 ˝ years. Participants filled out a personality questionnaire at the beginning of the study to assess their degree of perfectionism. Those who scored highest, putting the most pressure on themselves to be perfect, had a 51% increased risk of death compared to those with the lowest scores. But does perfectionism always have to be something negative? Not necessarily.

In the same study, "after following 385 patients with type 2 diabetes for 6.5 years, the researchers actually saw the opposite effect. Those with high perfectionism scores had a 26% lower risk of death than those with low scores." So in some cases, such as managing a health condition, perfectionism can actually be a good thing.

Socially prescribed perfectionism (meaning you feel others expect you to be perfect versus just imposing high standards on yourself) appears to have the most significant impact on health. Many socially prescribed perfectionists distance themselves from others when they feel like they are being judged, and research has shown that social support is a large contributor to good health.

It's a complex subject because the need to be perfect comes from various places (ourselves and others), in varying degrees, and in different areas of our lives (work, home, etc.). More research is needed to determine the relationship between perfectionism and health. Personally, I'm glad I'm someone who sets high goals and works hard to achieve them. But at the same time I know I need to be more realistic and accept the fact that I'm not always going to be perfect.

What do you think? Are you a perfectionist? Do you think it has an effect on your health?


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Comments

  • 37
    I've had to work hard to let go of my perfectionist ways, but it's worth it. It's fine to strive for improvement, but sometimes life happens and it's no good getting mad at myself over things I can't control. - 7/28/2010   7:46:00 AM
  • 36
    I am far from a perfectionist, however, with three boys on a farm, it is almost impossible to keep the house clean, plus it doesn't help that where we take our shoes off is open to the rest of the house. My husband used to be a neat freak, but he has learned to accept that it can't be perfect with three little boys running around (guess they aren't so little anymore, though).

    Now, as far as cooking goes, I usually don't let my dh cook. His family doesn't like a lot of flavor and I like to have my food taste good. Plus, he works all day and I stay at home with the kids. - 7/28/2010   7:20:24 AM
  • 35
    I'm not perfect...but forgiven. How can we be perfectionists, when no one is? Let's just say, I try VERY hard....sometimes too hard, but have learned to relax through the years. Striving to be the best you can be isn't what I call perfectionism. "Chill-ax and do your best" is my motto. Give it all you have and accept what you can't change and move along. Serves me well so far. Smile and be happy!!!!!!!! XO MaryAnn - 7/28/2010   7:20:06 AM
  • 34
    Yes I am. I wish I knew what to do with myself when I have nothing to do, but I normally just work to make things around me better. I think it would be healthier to sometimes let things slide and relax like my husband. - 7/28/2010   7:05:21 AM
  • 33
    Yes I am, I have a real penchant for having my place spotless at all times..I wish I could relax about this, apparently I drive my hubby crazy, always picking up after him. I joined the stress team, on here, and I am working on this, trying to lighten up! My friends call me "Mrs Clean" so I guess that says it all Lol! Is it causing a health issue, I would say yes, I get so stressed out, and we all know what stress does to our bodies! - 7/28/2010   1:41:39 AM
  • 32
    In some things I am a perfectionist like when I clean or want things done a certain way. Other things don't really matter that much like I never make meatloaf the same I just add whatever I have, don't measure things. I am sort of in the middle - 7/28/2010   12:17:22 AM
  • 31
    Am I a perfectionist? ABSOLUTELY! I am a pilot, and in what I do, NOT being a perfectionist can get a lot of people hurt, or killed. Brie - 7/27/2010   11:01:47 PM
  • SILVERROSES313
    30
    I used to consider myself a perfectionist. But in trying to get pregnant and struggling, I came to the realization that stress is probably a major contributing factor. So a month ago, I decided I was done with it. I am letting it all go. Things will work out and I will do what I am capable of doing and no more. I'm not going to pressure myself to do unattainable things.

    While the jury is still out on whether or not it's helped us get pregnant, I do feel a lot better mentally and physically. The stress was literally hurting me! - 7/27/2010   10:41:27 PM
  • 29
    I am a perfectionist but over the years I have come to accept that I cannot be perfect in every thing I do. I use to get frustrated with myself when I made a mistake or couldn't accomplish something perfectly. Now I just do the best I can and encourage myself to move on. My mental health is better therefore my physical health is better. As a man thinketh so is he! - 7/27/2010   10:14:21 PM
  • 28
    I definitely think that I socially prescribed perfectionist! I often feel like if I don't do something or look a certain way that I am going to disappoint others. I can't handle people being mad at me, I always have to fix it. I get so stressed sometimes that I give myself stomach aches and even ulcers. But I am working on that and I am doing much better. - 7/27/2010   9:49:25 PM
  • 27
    I strive for perfection but I'm not a perfectionist. I don't like doing anything unless I know I can give it my best.

    I do think being a perfectionist can have a negative effect on someone's health. Perfection can often be a personal perception and not necessarily based in physical fact which can make it difficult to acheive, which results in compulsive behavior and or depression/stress due to a sense of inability to get something "just right".

    If I know I've done my best, I'm usually happy with my results but even I can be a little hard on myself when my end result is "less than perfect"
    - 7/27/2010   6:31:39 PM
  • VAGUILAR19
    26
    When I am in school, I tend to have major acne break out and I associate that with my need to get perfect grades. The stress is increased with 2 kids and a house that need to be maintained. I feel that being a perfectionist is taking a toll on my health and am scared at the impact it is going to have on my childen since I am modeling this behavior. - 7/27/2010   5:35:20 PM
  • 25
    OK. I suffer from perfectionism. It's interesting that we think that making a mistake makes us imperfect. When I look at my own perfectionism I see it as rigidity and about holding to some rigid ideal that does not exist. It's not good enough to do MY best, but I must be THE best. The perfect person does not exist. It's literally a figment of our own imaginations.

    So letting go of this rigidity and practicing acceptance about myself and others is the process that I still struggle with. Glad to see I'm not alone. - 7/27/2010   4:43:11 PM
  • 24
    yes and yes, and im also bi-polar with ADD, so that doesnt help neither, and the more i try to stop the behavior the harder it is, although my health is improving (mostly because i ALWAYS HAVE TO full complete my exersising regime), i am still concerned about my health in the long run. - 7/27/2010   4:10:27 PM
  • 23
    @JILLAROO2 The increased risk of death represented in a study is for the study period. The people doing studies are well aware that all of their subjects will eventually die. - 7/27/2010   1:51:41 PM
  • 22
    I am definitely a socially presscribed perfectionist...grew up with a mother who was always so concerned about how things appeared, even if they were falling apart in reality. It's something I am working on overcoming and it is a long, arduous battle, but I will succeed unlike her. - 7/27/2010   1:45:00 PM
  • 21
    I am definitely a perfectionist, but I'm not perfect, so I obviously have issues. So, with that combination comes procrastination. If you can't get it done perfectly then put it off until some magical time in the future when perfect can be obtained. Well, I've been waiting and the magical time has yet to arrive. My goal is to take small steps towards completing a project, but not to finish. It's working. I'm making progress on home projects, weight, and organization. I know I have to keep resisting the perfectionism bug in me. If I give in to it, the procrastination cycle could start all over again. Small steps is way better than being stagnant. - 7/27/2010   1:36:37 PM
  • SCOTTISHMAID
    20
    I honestly think I'm among the best around at what I do. But being a "socially prescribed" perfectionist is extremely stressful. I always feel that I'm being judged for what I do and what I haven't done. As a result, I tend to isolate myself. I can't really relax in a social environment. Parties make me nervous. All this stress led to a heart attack at the age of 50 -- way too young for a non-smoking woman. My latest habit is grinding my teeth in my sleep -- which causes excruciating pain in the gums and jaw. I trying to find a physical outlet for all this stress, but in the meantime I just try NOT to take myself too seriously. - 7/27/2010   1:25:55 PM
  • 19
    OK I just have to comment here ... a 51% increased risk of death? Does that mean that the other 49% of people are going to be immortal? Because my understanding is that we all have a 100% chance of dying at some stage. Without good factual data I'm not sure why people are worrying! - 7/27/2010   1:22:00 PM
  • MINNIEKS610
    18
    I'm somewhat of a perfectionist however my to do list is forever growing causes me to want to get everything done but not able to do it or do it half way. I feel manic!! - 7/27/2010   1:20:33 PM
  • 17
    This is a little scary because I keep going back and forth to change and perfect my recipes at SparkPeople.com - 7/27/2010   1:13:36 PM
  • 16
    Wow, this article really hits home for me. I am *absolutely* a perfectionist. Wish I could say I was recovering like some of the other posters, but I haven't quite figured out how to beat the monster yet. Personally, I do feel that it affects my health (physical and mental/emotional) negatively. While perfectionism can be positive in that it requires you to hold yourself to higher standards and not "slack off", it also causes tendencies to go a little bit "overboard". For me at least, any project I take on, whether it has been personal or for school, must be done to the almost unachievable standards I set for myself. Cleaning? Must be absolutely spotless, everything in its place, and kept that way for as long as possible. Writing a paper? The wording must be perfect, references integrated seamlessly, and make a powerful argument. Writing it out, it sounds positive, but the actual feel of the standards I set for myself are much higher, and I often spend the majority of a project being anxious about not being able to meet those demands. It has negatively affected my weight loss / journey towards becoming healthy as well. I expect each day to go "perfectly", and when it doesn't it often causes that oh-so-familiar challenge of abandoning my healthy plan altogether because it's already been ruined. Blech.

    I need to work on a way to reduce the perfectionism in order to keep myself sane, but haven't quite found a way yet... :) - 7/27/2010   1:10:22 PM
  • SHARYNAT
    15
    I am one of those perfectionists that just won't start unless I can follow the plan perfectly! I must get over this perfectionisim (and procrastination)! - 7/27/2010   1:09:34 PM
  • 14
    I too am a recovering perfectionist, and this article is dead on. I've long suspected that perfectionistic tendencies impact health. I don't know about other perfectionists out there, but I know for me, I feel lots of physical tension and pressure in my body because of it. I'm working on letting go of some of these tendencies, but it's tough! - 7/27/2010   12:56:00 PM
  • MOWILDFLOWERS
    13
    I don't seem like a perfectionist, but my tendancy is to not start something unless I know I can do it "perfectly", therefore, I am all or nothing. Where health is concerned, definitely a poor strategy. Today I need to walk, but the house had to be straightened, and then I had to have the right song downloaded, and the dishes had to be put away and...well, I still haven't left. Now it's too hot. - 7/27/2010   12:29:15 PM
  • 50PLUSBABY
    12
    I do not understand this whole perfectionist thing. Do you choose what to be perfectionist in? I would think you would also be perfectionist in your eating and exercise and not even have weight problems as you want a perfect body. - 7/27/2010   12:22:18 PM
  • 11
    I completely agree with this article. I am a perfectionist and I view everything I do to be less than what others view it as being. I always strive to reach that mental level of perfection in my head and if I can't reach it, I feel like a failure. It causes stress on me in both aspects because I put a lot of stress in working towards an unreachable goal in my head, and then I'm stressed because I didn't reach it. Great post! - 7/27/2010   12:14:00 PM
  • 10
    I am a perfectionist, borne of anxiety over achieving my own expectations, which are so much higher than those other people hold me to.

    I am learning, slowly, to let myself be imperfect, and in so doing I am achieving more than I did when I would paralyze myself out of fear that I would do it wrong, or it was just too much to do, or whatever else got to me.

    I still have ADHD-related issues, but even those are easier to handle when I remind myself that I'm never going to be perfect, and mistakes are okay. - 7/27/2010   11:31:54 AM
  • 9
    You could insert my name in your blog. I feel the same way, but I am learning as you are to relax a little. I get a massage once a month and I try and pray and meditate daily. It has helped a lot and I am integrating it into my workout as well with pilates. Thanks for the encouragement and the information! Keep it up! - 7/27/2010   11:29:38 AM
  • 8
    far too many people *think* they are perfectionists, but they really aren't- they just claim to be to explain why they spend too much time on one activity while neglecting another. If everyone who claimed to be a perfectionist really was one, we would have a very clean, orderly world indeed. - 7/27/2010   11:20:52 AM
  • 7
    I am still something of a perfectionist - the self prescribed type, Ive FINALLY been able to shake the social one a little bit in anycase, but I see now that's probably the better perefctionist to be! Oh mercy can't win for losing - oh yeah, and my health - kinda sucks, but I honestly dont think my perfectionism has anything to do with it. - 7/27/2010   11:05:49 AM
  • 6
    I am a recovering prefectionist - which means that I no longer feel I have to fix everything and everybody, I had a horrible accident and I learned then, that while I was recupping, life went on and things went on. Now, don't get me wrong - I hate that there is no spell check here, and started to pull out the dictionary, but ... I am going crazy now - so I must ask that you forgive me for the misspelled words - I think I can, I know I can live with this. :o) - 7/27/2010   10:51:00 AM
  • ALWANGNER
    5
    As for how it affects my health, I tend to spend much time tracking and planning and obsessing over how many calories etc. that an item might be, then I'll turn right around and compulsively eat something that is much higher in fat, calories, etc. I'm working on finding a balance between what's on the page (or screen) and what's going on in real life.
    Thanks for the great blog! :) - 7/27/2010   10:48:14 AM
  • ALWANGNER
    4
    I recently had a project at work which was due on, let's say, May 6. I had known about it since September, and had looked at it off and on and made several "false starts". I also had a co-worker who was counting on me to do this for her as well. The problem for me was that it was not a "clear cut" assignment. I had to make some decisions and go with them. My "perfectionist" side wanted to be told what it would take to get an A+!!!
    May 5 rolled around and I started to pack up all of my "false starts" and take them home to work on all night so I could submit it the next day, right on the due date.
    HERE is where I made a change: I decided to do what I could with it at work and forced myself to finish it and submit. I was SO afraid it would not meet the standard.
    The next day I opened an email from the supervisor with high praises for my work and a request to use it as an example for future groups.
    The lesson learned was that I need to trust myself and just DO IT even if there is a risk of "failing". My perfectionism is a poor excuse for procrastination! - 7/27/2010   10:45:07 AM
  • 3
    I am, and I think it actually benefits me, because the more I accomplish, the better I feel. - 7/27/2010   10:38:41 AM
  • 48WALKER
    2
    I'm a perfectionist, and I think it gets in my way lots of times. I can use it as a reason to "throw in the towel." I've messed up, I'm not perfect, or the best, so why even bother? Not the best attitude for long term weight loss, and I'm working on changing it. - 7/27/2010   10:36:58 AM
  • 1
    I am a perfectionist, and I can see how this could harm one's health. Always striving for the best often means feeling stressed until perfection is achieved. Applied to weight loss, perfectionism helps me stay dedicated, but it puts more pressure on me to meet my weight loss goals as quickly as possible. I feel very discouraged and stressed when the scale doesn't read what I want it to each week. It's a struggle to stay positive and to be proud of myself for small accomplishments along the way to my larger goals. - 7/27/2010   10:23:06 AM

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