A study published in Psychological Bulletin has said what a majority of us have always been thinking: the notion of perfection can be debilitating and for many, contributes to anxiety and depression especially in these glass-bowl times.
When we say glass bowl, it’s evident in the way we post glamorous snippets of our lives (a vacation, new belongings, a new look, etc) with the intention to inform, but as the Internet audience continues to evolve, it can be taken as the way we are ‘supposed’ to live, and how it’s open for viewing for all poses a problem.
The study found that along with this selective information sharing culture, children and young adults are now “more obsessed than ever” with perfection than previous generations were.
This report said that the authors of the study first reviewed prior studies on perfectionism, broadly defined as “as a combination of excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations.”
They also conducted their own study among 41,641 American, Canadian, and British college students between 1989 and 2016. They found that ‘perfectionism’ increased over time, and it’s at its worst in the United States.
There are multiple dimensions to the phenomenon, the authors said, including self-oriented perfectionism, which is the pressure one puts on oneself to be perfect; socially prescribed perfectionism, the pressure one feels from society to be perfect, and other-oriented perfectionism, the pressure one puts on others to be perfect.
The research presented three reasons for this shift: the rise of neoliberalism, increasingly anxious and controlling parents, and the increasing power of meritocracy.
“[N]eoliberalism and its doctrine of meritocracy have combined to shape a culture in which everybody is expected to perfect themselves and their lifestyles, by striving to meet unrealistic achievement standards,” the study stated.
“For parents, this new culture confers an additional burden. On top of their own duty to succeed, they are also responsible for the successes and failures of their children.”
Clinical psychologist Dr. Barbara Greenberg, who specializesin family and relationship issues, agrees that social media is another factor in the phenomenon.
“These people grew up being constantly evaluated on social media,” she points out.
Striving for these varying notions of perfection has led to increased depression and anxiety among college-age and even younger respondents.
“Research among college students and young people, for example, has found self-oriented perfectionism to be positively associated with clinical depression, anorexia nervosa, and early death,” the study authors said.
“It is also associated with greater physiological reactivity (e.g., elevated blood pressure) and ill-being (e.g., negative affect) in response to life stress and failure.” There is even a link with suicidal ideation.
Couple self-imposed notions of perfection with society’s, and the problem gets even deeper.
“Socially prescribed perfectionism predicted increases in depressive symptoms and suicide ideation over time, but to a much greater degree,”according to the study.
A separate analysis found that socially prescribed perfectionism was positively related to a range of psychological disorders and symptoms of disorders, which included social phobia, body dissatisfaction, bulimia nervosa, and suicide ideation, and had the greatest relationship between other dimensions of perfectionism and depression and anxiety.
“When you are constantly under a literal and figurative microscope — the microscope being social media — of course you are going to become more self-conscious,” says Dr. Greenberg.
“When self-consciousness and perfectionism increase, anxiety and depression increase as well. They go hand in hand,” she says, supporting the study.
“The things that kids post on Instagram and Snapchat are celebratory moments,” Dr. Greenberg says. “They post moments of when they are having fun or when they are looking good. They could take hundreds of selfies before they post one on Instagram.”
Rarely will people post moments where they aren’t dolled up or being the star of the show.
“People look at it, and say ‘Oh wow, their life looks so good!”” says Greenberg, and for many, they feel as if they have to live up to it.
Dr. Greenberg adds that ‘perfectionism’ is a “problematic concept.”
“I think when young people are motivated, that’s a wonderful thing. But motivation and perfectionism are not interchangeable. They are two very different concepts, and unrelated.” “All I have seen come out of it [perfectionism]is anxiety and depression. Perfectionism is laden with anxiety. You’re chasing after something very elusive, and of course it leads to problems, because nobody can be perfect and nobody should be perfect.”