The Rise of Perfectionism

What is Perfectionism?

There are two main types of perfectionism.

The first is known as "socially prescribed perfectionism" and occurs when individuals believe that they are being heavily judged by others. We try to be perfect for other people and become very conscious of how we are coming across to others.

The second is known as “other-oriented perfectionism”. It occurs when individuals hold others to unrealistic standards, imposing perfectionist expectations upon them which, when unfulfilled, are met with critical judgement. So, this occurs when we expect someone to never make a mistake, never to slip up, and to do no wrong.

Perfectionism is known to underly depression, anxiety, eating disorders, deliberate self-harm, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and even poor physical health. Although perfectionism can be beneficial in some spheres, such as preparing for an interview or working on a project for your boss, when it becomes pervasive, it can become problematic.

The problem is that perfection doesn't exist, so those who struggle with perfectionism are striving for something that is unattainable. This inherently sets them up for a perceived failure.

Why is it on the rise?

Perfectionism is said to be on the rise. A study in the Personality and Social Psychology Review found that millennials are more inclined to be perfectionists than previous generations.

Increasingly, young people hold unrealistic expectations of what they "should own, how they should look, or what they need to achieve" (Jeremy Tyler, PsyD).

Many people point to the increased use of social media as the cause of the increase in perfectionism. The "social comparisons" encouraged by social media platforms can lead to low self-assessments (i.e. low confidence and self-esteem). So many people are retouching images of themselves before posting them online that they are no longer comfortable in their own skin. These retouched images become the new "normal" and thus our real-life appearance no longer feels good enough.

The photos that are posted, as well as the likes, comments, and follows that one receives all contribute to feelings of perfectionism, anxiety, and body-negativity. However, recently Instagram has started to remove the like counts on many users accounts. Users can see how many likes their own posts have received, but they can't see how many other people have received. This was done in an effort to minimise the comparisons that users were making between their own like-counts and the like counts on others' posts; aiming to make Instagram a healthier social media platform.

However, we can't just blame social media for the increase in perfectionism. Life has changed over the last few generations, culminating in a world where competition for jobs, University places, even school places is higher than ever. Furthermore, millennials are struggling against massive economic pressures. For example, millennials are one of the first generations who might never match or surpass their parents’ careers and salaries, and they may never own their own home.

To read more about the pressures faced by millennials, click here.

How to Combat Perfectionism

In order to combat perfectionism, we must first accept that there is no such thing as perfect. There is value in accepting flaws, and in seeing mistakes as opportunities to grow and to learn.

It can be challenging, but it is important to take a step back and recognise what is really important. We need to recognise that what is being posted on social media is not always reality (more often than not it is a carefully curated and edited version of what someone wants us to see). We all need to learn to have a healthy amount of scepticism when it comes to browsing social media.

Furthermore, just because something is "perfect" for someone else, doesn't mean that it is perfect for you. In the UK, Oxford and Cambridge Universities are often extolled as the best of the best, and with good reason, but they probably aren't what you should be striving for if you want to become a hairdresser or carpenter.

We all have our own idea of perfection, whether that's in regard to our career, our family, our education, our fitness, and so on. Having your own idea of perfection is always better than prescribing to societies idea of perfection. Moreover, having our own idea of perfection should be like having a goal in mind. Goals are changeable, just as the journey that takes us there is changeable. We might not reach our goals or our ideas of perfection, but we might find a different version of perfection along the way. Our personal idea of perfection should not be rigid.

As always, if you would like to book an initial counselling session with me, please email me at or use the Appointments tab in the menu.

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