5 Mental Disorders Linked to Perfectionism
I despise guessing because I could be wrong. That may seem very strange to you, but it is normal for me. See, I suffer from perfectionism.
Perfectionism consists of impossibly high personal standards and the fear of mistakes. In a perfectionist’s mind, mistakes equal failure. The fear of failure drives perfectionism.
Further, perfectionists are overly self-critical but despise criticism. I, personally, shut down when I hear criticism because it means that I have failed my perfect standards and that other people do not approve of me. However, I have no problem calling myself an idiot or over-analyzing my every word and action for mistakes.
Perfectionism is linked to different mental disorders, including anxiety, OCD, depression, substance abuse, and eating disorders. Not all perfectionists will have one of these disorders, and not everyone who suffers from these disorders is a perfectionist. However, perfectionism’s tie to these disorders is concerning.
Perfectionism is influential in different types of anxiety disorders, including social anxiety disorder, or social phobia. People suffering from social anxiety disorder see potential danger, such as humiliation, in social situations. The person must have a perfect social performance in order to prevent this crisis. Since it is nearly impossible for someone to have a perfect social performance, the person with social anxiety disorder usually avoids the danger—social situations—altogether.
Many “shoulds” exist in a perfectionist’s mind. One of my “shoulds” is that I should always do things perfectly the first time. Two specific “shoulds” of a person struggling with social anxiety are that he “should have the perfect response and that [he] should talk without ever stuttering or fumbling a word.” These unrealistic expectations cannot be met, so the perfectionist’s failure leads to self-condemnation.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) involves “obsessions,” which are “unwanted, intrustive thoughts, images or urges that trigger intensely distressing feelings,” and “compulsions,” which are behaviors meant to banish the obsessions “and/or decrease his or her distress.” These obsessions and compulsions disturb the person’s daily life.
Sometimes, OCD involves a “need for perfection.” Obsessions associated with this “need for perfection” include the intense fears of making mistakes and of not meeting a certain standard. Rituals associated with perfectionistic OCD include constantly rewriting written work or seeking affirmation about the rightness of one’s performance. People struggling from OCD are never satisfied with their efforts and need others to approve of them, which sounds a lot like perfectionism.
When a perfectionist inevitably fails her high standards, she usually reacts with “disappointment, self-criticism, frustration and regret.” The combination of those four creates a depressed mood that drains away all motivation and hope. Since the perfectionist cannot be perfect, she feels as though there is no point in trying anymore and sinks into depression.
In one study of college students, the researchers found that “depression increased self-critical perfectionism and self-critical perfectionism increased depression.” Though the relationship between perfectionism and depression is complicated, evidence of a link between the two is well-documented.
When a perfectionist finds that he cannot meet his impossible standards, this creates a sense of cognitive dissonance in his head; he is not perfect. He may turn to drug use to stifle these thoughts and drown out the reality of failure. Alcohol, a depressant, is a common choice of drug for the perfectionist.
Unfortunately, if a perfectionist becomes an addict, he will put himself on a path that does not lead to perfection. In fact, it will make him even more likely to fail, which will likely make him try to drown himself in more alcohol. This leads to a vicious cycle.
People with eating disorders, particularly those with anorexia nervosa, often struggle with perfectionism. They hold themselves to an unrealistic standard of how their bodies should look. Though they continually fail to meet this standard, the failure causes “a self-defeating cycle of fear and dissatisfaction” that fuels “a renewed drive toward thinness, perfection, and control.” This creates a horrible cycle.
One study found that “increasing perfectionism was associated with lower body weight and greater prominence of eating preoccupations and rituals” in women with anorexia nervosa. Since eating disorders are very dangerous, the desire for the perfect body can be fatal.
Perfectionism can be crippling. I spent hours rewriting this article. I am still not satisfied with it since it is not perfect. But that is okay because:
My standards are unattainable.
My work does not define me as a person.
Mistakes do not equal failure.
Breathe, perfectionists. Life is meant to be enjoyed. Don’t let perfectionism steal your joy.
Take risks. Be kind to yourself. Accept imperfection.