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?