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Perfectionism: A tunnel vision of Life and Work

www.businessmanager.in | October 1, 2023

“Perfectionism isn't a behavior, it is a way of thinking about yourself.” - Andrew Hill

Perfectionism can be perplexing and utterly exhausting most of the time. When you are living in a society aiming for, even celebrating perfection, anything less is considered unnatural and unworthy. Although a personality trait, perfectionism has been recognised as a multidimensional construct by researchers (Curran & Hill, 2019). Hewitt and Flett (1991) categorised perfectionism into three categories namely- self-oriented perfectionism, other-oriented perfectionism, and prescribed perfectionism. Self-oriented perfectionism is characterised by a tendency of individuals to set extremely high, sometimes even unrealistic expectations of themselves, being self-critical, fearful of failure, and averse to making mistakes. It consists of an individual’s desire to appear flawless or demanding of themselves a higher quality of performance than what is required (Beheshtifar et al., 2011). Researchers have argued that this type of perfectionism often stems from adverse childhood experiences and complex emotions that manifest in this unending pursuit of excellence (Kermanian et al., 2021).
Additionally, perfectionistic tendencies have also been recognised as a coping mechanism for stress and have found an association between maladaptive perfectionistic tendencies with psychological disorders such as clinical depression, chronic anxiety, restrictive eating disorders, and more (Fang & Liu, 2022). What causes this epidemic to spread is more layered and complicated than one would imagine. A study conducted in 2021 by Sehar Kermanian and colleagues from the Department of General Psychology at the University of Tehran, Iraq revealed that increased trauma in the childhood years of an infant can lead to overly perfectionistic tendencies in adulthood. It further states that adaptive parenting styles and a conducive familial environment can contribute to lower perfectionism (Kermanian et al., 2021). Another study conducted by researchers at the University of Cambridge discussed how excessive parental demands in childhood lead to a greater tendency of perfectionism (Oros et al., 2017).
This explains to us that parental guidance, beliefs, values and demands play an imperative role in shaping an individual’s personality and how they perceive themselves and the world around them in their adult years.

Society, too, plays a role here in culminating and fostering this mindset of unembellished brilliance. With the advent of the ‘hustle culture’ and ‘grind culture’, there has been a glorification of the overworked, burnt-out employee. Unrealistic expectations are placed on professionals and students alike. The failure to perform, conform, and deliver is looked down upon, to say the least. Literature reveals to us how such societal trends in turn adversely affect parental styles thus resulting in maladaptive parenting styles. Highly critical and controlling parenting styles have been associated with anxious, self-doubting, critical, and overly perfectionistic adults (Bousman, n.d.). This negative perfectionism is extremely detrimental to an individual’s mental health. Emotional exhaustion, burnout, hopelessness, worthlessness, difficulty adjusting, and deteriorating long-term performance in the future are a few concerns. Studies have shown clear associations between ways of upbringing, maladaptive perfectionism, and the hazard that it is to mental health. While such concerns may not be visible, their harm only comes to the forefront in the long run thus resulting in serious burnout, acute and chronic stress, lowered job satisfaction, and eventually decreased employee performance.
A 2022 Happiness Report by happiness.me stated that 59% of Indians are unhappy at the workplace due to increased levels of stress and a high number of people reported a desire to quit their jobs, out of which the majority were women (Financialexpress 2022). India also ranks 126th out of 136 countries in happiness which makes it one of the unhappiest and dissatisfied countries in the world (World happiness report 2023). Such statistics make one question not only work dissatisfaction but also the general population’s major rise in issues related to mental health which eventually affect work. Stress, anxiety or unhappiness at the workplace can be the enemy of work satisfaction and fulfilment.

Not only this, perfectionists are also found to have higher suicide rates, increased vulnerability to mental disorders, more anger outbursts and an avoidant coping mechanism in the absence of perfection (Bousman, n.d.).
Such concerns have become relevant more so now than ever before. Therefore, identifying such patterns of behavior and strategizing effective coping mechanisms is the way forward. Individuals with high maladaptive perfectionistic tendencies are not only more vulnerable to psychopathological disorders but also reported to have experienced high levels of shame, guilt, loneliness, unworthiness, and even humiliation (Perfectionism and the experience of pride, shame, and guilt: Comparing ...). Employers must aim at making workplaces a safe, healthy, and stress-free environment of growth for the employees. Leaders, too, must take an active participation in interacting with their employees and understanding their concerns. Identifying such unhealthy patterns of behavior and supporting the employee emotionally can help reduce it over time thus leading to a safer and healthier workplace where employees can truly thrive and not just survive.
This article has been co-authored by Ishita Malhotra, Undergraduate Student, FLAME University and Prof. Moitrayee Das, Faculty of Psychology, FLAME University.

(Source:- https://www.businessmanager.in/perfectionism-a-tunnel-vision-of-life-and-work/ )