Perfectionism is a bigger risk factor in suicide than is often thought, according to new research.
Perfectionism involves being highly self-critical, constantly striving to meet the standards of others (typically parents or mentors) and being unsure about the efficacy of one’s own actions.
While a certain amount of perfectionism is adaptive and necessary, when it becomes an obsession, it can lead to a vicious cycle.
People in professions which have a strong emphasis on perfectionism — like lawyers, architects and physicians — are at a higher risk of suicide.
Professor Gordon Flett of York University, who co-authored the study, said:
“Perfectionism is the need to be – or to appear – perfect.
Perfectionists are persistent, detailed and organized high achievers.
Perfectionists vary in their behaviors: some strive to conceal their imperfections; others attempt to project an image of perfection.
But all perfectionists have in common extremely high standards for themselves or for others.”
It’s not hard to see how setting impossibly high standards for yourself would sometimes lead to negative feelings when these standards are not met.
Professor Flett continued:
“We summarize data showing consistent links between perfectionism and hopelessness and discuss the need for an individualized approach that recognizes the heightened risk for perfectionists.”
The research finds that people who feel strong social pressure to be perfect are at increased risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts (Flett et al., 2014).
At the same time, perfectionists are adept at hiding these feelings from others — after all, it would contradict their perfectionist persona to admit to suicidal thoughts.
Perfectionists like to maintain a mask of cool invulnerability to others, while inside their thoughts and emotions are anything but calm.
Professor Flett continued:
“They also tend to experience hopelessness, psychological pain, life stress, overgeneralization, and a form of emotional perfectionism that restricts the willingness to disclose suicidal urges and intentions.”
Ironically, if they decide to commit suicide, their perfectionism can lead to very thorough and precise plans for suicide.
* Ten Signs Your a Perfectionist
Professor Flett gives these tell-tale signs of perfectionism:
- You can’t stop thinking about a mistake you made.
- You are intensely competitive and can’t stand doing worse than others.
- You either want to do something “just right” or not at all.
- You demand perfection from other people.
- You won’t ask for help if asking can be perceived as a flaw or weakness.
- You will persist at a task long after other people have quit.
- You are a fault-finder who must correct other people when they are wrong.
- You are highly aware of other people’s demands and expectations.
- You are very self-conscious about making mistakes in front of other people.
- * You noticed the error in the title of this list.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Image credit: Billy Wilson