Perfectionism Leads to Poor Health

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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 ½ 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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My perfectionism affected my tracking at first, because it bothered me if I couldn't find the exact food or I went over my calorie limit. I'm having trouble with exercise, and I think it's because of my perfectionism but I can't figure out exactly what the problem is. Has anyone let perfectionism get in the way of their exercise program? Report
As a diabetic Sparker I'd like to say I agree that in most of my other aspects of my life emotionally, perfectionism has been detrimental..which in turn has led to some health issues related to the stress of trying to do a good job at work, take care of my family and better myself in different ways. BUt when I was diagonosed with Type 2 Diabetes three years ago, my tendency to perfectionism actually gave me the motivation to work at all of the different areas of my life which affect the disease, ie. weight loss, exercise, diet changes, lowering stress levels, keeping regular with medications and blood glucose testing, etc. In other words , the often strict routine required to keep blood sugars on an even keel without too many off-the-wall fluctuations , I saw as a challenge. Having watched my mother struggle with the disease I knew that never giving up was important and that all of these areas required continual striving. I have my bad days and I beat myself up for it.....blame myself.... so I guess perfectionism is a double-edged sword. there's a word I need in my vocabulary. It's all about balance, baby...and forgetting who's watching. Report
I am a perfectionist, and it makes me and everyone around me very unhappy. I can't relax and be happy unless everything is just right-the house must be clean and tidy, etc.etc.etc. I know I lower my standards somewhat, but is really hard to do. Report
Yes, I am and yes it affects my health, ESPECIALLY my eating! I have been struggling with my friendship with a woman who seems to want/need my friendship (approval) yet she constantly makes me feel that I don't "measure up!" It doesn't make sense, I know! I have friends who actually respect and admire me and support me when I am not "perfect," trusting me to come around to a right attitude / behavior. I keep asking myself why I don't "close the door" and forget about her. (I really do have some quite wonderful friends!) No matter what answers I give myself, I think they all come back to my needing / wanting HER approval, even though I am almost constantly struggling with my attitude toward her. Frustration takes my focus off learning a new lifestyle! Writing this has given me an idea. I am going to tell her that I have finally learned to accept myself with all my imperfections and if she cannot accept me as I am, then perhaps she should look for a friend who meets her qualifications! Whew, I feel better! LOL :-D

PS: I like to think I am a FORMER perfectionist, but obviously I am still struggling!

And to you people who "don't get it" consider youselves lucky! Some of us grew up w/ so much criticism we learned to try to be perfect in order to avoid being criticized and ended up being frustrated because "perfect" is impossible (except through the blood of Christ). God is a lot easier to please than a lot of people are! Report
I am a. Social perfectionist, my husband is a perfectionist, a type A personality. He thinks my attempt to use this program is for not. Now I need to step up to the plate and show him this program works for me and he can either get on board or stop putting me down for doing something I feel I need to do to get and stay healthy! Need help from any of you that I can Thanks fo stoop being there Sparkpeople! Report
I consider myself a recovering perfectionist. Meditation and mindfulness has helped me tremendously in accepting imperfection in all aspects of life. It's completely changed me for the better! Report
I too am a bit of a perfectionist. Thankfully, I'm trying to learn not to be so strict with myself. I've even started leaving the odd dish in the kitchen sink very occasionally, until the next morning, before washing it. I've cut down on silly must do lists a bit too, that can frequently be put off, This should certainly help reduce stressing myself out, when I don't need to be. In the game of life and time with the family, does it REALLY matter if the vacuuming get's left occasionally until tomorrow??!! Report
As usual the old adage "Everything in moderation" applies in this situation, too. Report
I think you have to look at why you are a perfectionist first. If your job requires that you do a close to perfect job, that's one thing. If you feel you have to be perfect at home, I'd ask myself why. When I did, I was surprised at the answer and my life began to change over time. I'm much more relaxed now but I didn't used to be! Report
Thank you for this blog. Things usually come down to finding a realistic balance. Some times that's difficult and we resign to being busy and not thinking about it much. Thank you for making me think about it more. Blessings Report
I'm not a perfectionist, but I do think I could stand to give myself a break every now and then. I really am my own worst critic. Report
I am a perfectionnist too. But I am training myself not to be. I try to value myself exactly as I am. When I am not quite satisfied with myself I am carefull not to get into negative self talk. I find that having a healthy lifestyle with exercise and healthy eating, plenty of sleep and fun activities keeps me happy and satisfied. Also, I try to keep things into perspective. It is often a lot less a big deal than we make it to be. Finally, when I do give into perfectionism, I bring myself back and try to stay compassionate with myself. Report
Yep, I agree so much! I too am a perfectionist and drive my family crazy. Sometimes, I wish I just didn't care so much... I always thought it was OCD. I do agree that it is probably shortening my life because it causes stress. If I could let go a little, I could probably calm down just a little! Life is too short for all this perfectionism :) If I could just convince my stubborn brain of that, it'd be great. Report
I'm not sure I'm a perfectionist, but I find that if for example, I start to write something and I don't like the first sentence I will keep editing it til I like it. Most times, this makes the process of what I do extra extra long. I'll stress over stuff and like another sparker (?) (forgive me if incorrect this is my first comment on this site) stay so focused that I usually do lose sleep..... Report
"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". This really struck me like a hammer on a thumb. I am a perfectionist and tend to socially isolate myself because I feel that people do judge me by my size. Thankfully SP and my spartkteams are changing my life and making me social and getting out there. Thanks for the wake up call

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Just as the article stated, I think whether or not perfectionism is healthy depends on the situation. Sometimes being a perfectionist is healthy, and sometimes it is not. I have become more aware of this over the past few years, and it is helping me keep things in perspective.
I am a perfectionist who is probably one of the best at the things I do. I am certainly one of the most creative. I have high standards and meet them most of the time, although I have learned it is sometimes better to lower them. As a result of doing this, I am now able to relax and enjoy my own company. But I am also a socially prescribed perfectionist who feels that people won't like me unless I am perfect. Unfortunately I have had many, many bad relationships (including my parents and siblings) that tend to reinforce this, and too often I find myself the butt of other peoples' criticism. In order to avoid criticism, I tend to avoid other people. I realize this is probably not healthy, but being around other people usually causes me stress whereas being alone does not. I'm not sure what I can do to change this so interacting with other people is a positive and non-stressful thing for me. Report
Yes, I'm guilty of being a perfectionist! I had to be a good mother, wife, school teacher and housekeeper as well as a good cook who canned and froze garden items. Also helped run a business, did the bookkeeping, payroll, hiring, etc.
I rarely sat down, never learned to do handwork, and now at 74, I still have to make myself sit down to read, and yes, sitting down for meals is a goal of mine on SP. I have been most successful with that. Report
Thanks Report
I'm not perfect, just forgiven. Report
I am a perfectionist...I think it has both done my health good and bad. A few years ago, I would not exercise becuase I knew I wouldn't be good at it. Now, I strive to be perfect at exercise because though I'm not perfect now, I will be as soon as I lose this weight (just kidding)...Me being the way I am just makes me determined to improve my health. Report
I'd like to respond, but fear making a typo! No, really, I am a perfectionist and it comes out of my disability (being blind).... I feel everyone is watching to see if I fail so I feel pressured to always do better to proove myself! I wish I could bring out the perfectionist when it comes to eating right.... I am not good at following a healthy diet!! Report
I am a perfectionist for sure, and yes, it does affect my health and bothers my family--I am trying to not be that way, but--its hard! Report
I was raised to be a perfectionist and I DEFINITELY think it has affected my health. It is still something I struggle with. Report
Interesting thoughts. I am somewhat a perfectionist but do get stressed out and try to stop. I think perfectionism in caring for your health would be good. My parents are perfectionists but seem to handle it well and as they are 80 and 78 and in good health perfectionism works for them. They do take care to do the things recommended for good health and that probably helps. Report
It's a piece and not a whole. I had health issues from the day I was born and I doubt that as an infant of 1 month that I was seeking perfection. On the other side I know that my eating disorders came from the place of perfection. I couldn't be body perfect enough, it distorted my body view and I could not get skinny enough. I also have this innate need to achieve perfection at all times to the point that I cannot start a project. Then I start the project, it's not good enough, I redo it and it takes me 4x longer than the next. Of course during this time I'm not eating or sleeping, just focused on the task. Not good on health. When I was assessed for ADHD in my mid-30s I discovered this issue was actually a piece of the ADHD. It helped me to understand that I wasn't crazy, I was programmed in a way that created this high need for perfection. Now I address it to myself, remind myself that perfection is only achieved at death and let go. Interesting study that was shared in the blog and it'll be interesting to see what more comes from such studies. I just don't want this to shift in a similar fashion as stress - where studies showed how stress affects the body, therefore, every illness is related to stress and all you need to do is drop your stress. It's never one extreme or the other, it's all pieces. It's interesting to look at the pieces and from there, formulate a health plan. That's really what the purpose of all this should be. Report
Perfectionism? Related to health? Ha!

I was a junior in high school before I ever received a B in any class. It wasn't until I was in the 9th grade that I realized "A" didn't mean average.

My childhood and college problems? I had IBS. Sometimes so bad I couldn't walk standing up.

When I started my career in the military, the IBS seemed to go away (running 5-10 miles a day, wearing a 40# rucksack on your back, carrying a 9# rifle and wearing an 8# "steel pot" on your head, Plus an hour or two of calisthenics pretty much wiped out any 'concerns' you may have had. Just being able to hit the showers and go to bed before 11 PM was considered Heaven, because you knew reveille was at 5 AM and you started all over again.

When I was commissioned, I had time to 'think' about my duties and the stomach problems again appeared. I went into combat and they just disappeared - maybe taking the next plane back to the Continent, the American Continent.

Back from combat - yep, stomach problems.

I had to medically retire when I was 33 because of a massive heart attack and a quadruple by-pass. Any heart problems in my family? Well, one of my grandfathers passed on with a heart attack, but he was 77. No evidence anywhere, up or down the family tree of anyone having a heart attack at a young age.

'Perfectionism' affecting one's health? Well, duhh. Report
Being a perfectionist has basically ruined my life. It has prevented me from attempting to do things because I automatically know that I can't do it perfect the first time, so why try and put that pressure on me and embarrass myself. My career choices and my life have been dictated by my perfectionism. It's not a good thing all the time. Report
What do you think? Are you a perfectionist? Do you think it has an effect on your health?

Recently (after taking a personality test) I learned I was a perfectionist. I do think it has affected my health for I I do isolate myself from others when I don't think I can live up to others expectations (at least what I think their expectations are). I do stress out over everyday things and know that this also affects my health. I think by realizing this, I can now work to make changes and let things go and not stress over them. It is a slow process but so worth it. Report
I want everything to be perfect. For example I work about 45 - 50 hours a week. We are having friends over tomorrow night after work. I will stay up late tonight to clean, cook and bake. I will try to make healthy easy food, so tomorrow I can enjoy the company of my friends Report
In some things I am a perfectionist- but mostly only business related. I learned many years ago that there is no point in obsessing about things- especially things that my family don't notice (is that a puppy nose print on that freshly washed window?) I don't think that I have unrealistic expectations for myself- I want to be as fit as possible, but don't worry if my weight fluctuates by 3 pounds, or if I can only run 2 miles today instead of 3. Report
Not perfect, have no desire to be. I've been around perfectionists and they were never a shining example, just a horrible warning. I've never seen a reason to strive for perfection. Is there really such a thing? Report
I have been trying to give up perfectionism. It is a stupid goal, because you are never happy.I am trying to let go because the worry makes it worse and hurts my blood pressure. Report
Perfection ... it's always hard to live up to, because there will always be something we could've done better. We need to try to live happy with who we are, and happy able to do those things as well as we can at that moment... because after all, every day is a going to be a different day. Report
I have a lot of inner perfectionism. It was suffocating me and preventing me from even trying. I found and joined flylady peace is mine spark team and learned so much. Good enough is a wonderful place to live! I usually get so much more done in the time I used to spend stewing about what needed to be done or what wasn't "right." Woohoo! Report
Nope not one.

Work with one and I realize I could never live with one. just don't get it. Report
This post was very timely and relevant for me. It put many important facets of social perfectionism in hard focus for me and has given me more motivation to change this behavior for good. Report
I needed this reminder! Report
I am a perfectionist also, and I definitely agree that the stress and anxiety of not wanting to make a mistake can not only be detrimental to my health, but also can keep me from even trying. Report
I'm not a perfectionist (although I am a recovering people-pleaser which seems somewhat related to me). I've often envied perfectionists because I love how they can be counted on to "deliver the goods" on time and in great shape. I'm coming to the point now though that I love being more laid back. It's much less stressful to me ... that that translates to healthier. Report
If one eats healthy, and exercises then the body will do its job: lose the pounds. It must be a way of life. Can't yo-yo up and down. It won't work. I find that if I eat healthy mini meals along with healthy snacks and exercise hard about 4 days out of the week, then the pay off is a healthy body. And if I am losing inches rather than weight, that's great too. But if the pounds come off as well, then I consider that a bonus and I will have a stable body for years to come. Report
For me, the true meaning of this blog (which I loved!) is that we all have a need for the right *balance* of traits in our lives. Too *little* perfectionism (ie, NO goal setting, no 'self-standards', no accountability, no sense of its good to do our very best, or no sense of it's worthwhile to stretch ourselves) is likely just as damaging as 'too much' perfectionism. There's a balance point in the *middle* where we set goals, reach, try new things, attempt the very hard and challenging-- BUT also accept that the *journey* is what it's about, and that at a given moment we'll still of course 'fall short' of the final goal we've set. We have to learn to be 'OK' with *partially* reaching goals-- or doing what we can in a given circumstance. I think this is one of the really really helpful messages of SparkPeople-- aiming for *balance*, and not getting 'stuck' on either extreme of this continuum from 'perfectionism' to 'utter laziness and lack of self-care'. Thanks for the great posting! Report
I believe that people striving to be perfect have definitely made themselves sick in the process. So, I concur with the study. I do believe that trying to be perfect will lead to poor health. I've seen it in myself.

I'd spend hours in the gym trying to get my body to fit into the perfect size pair of jeans. In past, I'd deny myself foods because I told myself I couldn't eat them because I'd get fat.

Well, striving for perfection is no good. Why ? Because no one is perfect ! Perfection is an illusion created by the media to sell magazines and beauty products.

I stopped trying to be perfect a very long time ago. I decided it just wasn't worth it. I prefer to celebrate what my body can do instead of worrying about what it can't.

I'll never be perfect and that's okay. Report
Oh yes. This article could have been written by me! It is certainly for me AND about me! LOL Report
I'm a perfectionist, and I feel that it's detrimental to my health. I don't exercise as regularly as I should because I set goals that are not reasonable and give up when I'm not perfectly reaching them. As a result, I work out maybe 1-2 days per week, which is better than nothing, but not where I need to be. I also feel that perfectionism is detrimental because I'm always under a great amount of stress to succeed. I feel like this added stress makes my weight loss goals more difficult to achieve and is just bad for my general health and well being. Report
I deal with socially prescribed perfectionism from my family. They don't mean any harm by it but I am in grad school full time and working full time and they expect and joke about me getting all A's. I have so far but it kills me! I have very little time to do anything outside of school and work and I feel like if I don't succeed (make all A's) they will be disappointed. I was actually really excited when I thought I was making a B last semester so I could break out of the pressure and it would be over. It is nice to have some pressure but to make excellent grades while working full time really gets to me sometimes. Report
I'm a perfectionist, and I can totally see how it affects my life. It leads to worry and stress. I am learning how to let go and not worry so much, but it is difficult. I find that I jump into projects and than do too much too quickly. I don't want this to happen on my weight loss journey. So I am trying to take it one little step at a time, and not worry if I make a mistake. We are human - mistakes are OK. Just get back up and try again, rather than taking it personally and stressing over it! Report
Absolutely I'm a perfectionist and absolutely it affects my health. If I skip a day of walking or can't walk for my full 40 minutes I figure if I can't do it 100% then I should just skip it - I have to learn the a little is better than nothing when it comes to nutrition and exercise. Report
I was a perfectionist, but I'm getting better. SP is a big part of that, helping me set smaller goals towards my health and lifestyle.

Noticing some of my sparkfriends are here, HI guys! Report
That's something that I've been working on since I'm a perfectionist. I need to accept that "B" or "C" as a final grade because I worked my hardest. Being stuck on what I could've done better to achieve that "A" won't help. I seem to look at everything too seriously. I used to get really upset if I don't follow my schedule exactly because something comes up, I totally messed up an artwork that can't be fixed, so I have to redo it, an event didn't go as planned, etc. I've learned to accept slip-ups because no one's perfect, and it's ULTRA STRESSFUL!!! Report