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The Desire to Be Perfect

Madissyn Fredericks, Licensed Professional Counselor, Symmetry Counseling

In today’s society, the pressure for young adults to be “perfect” seems to be far greater than ever before. With social media so heavily present in our lives, it is easy to get caught up in comparing ourselves to others or wondering how others perceive us. Many people begin to wonder if they are pretty enough, successful enough, smart enough, fit enough, or “liked” enough in the eyes of others. While some people use social media as inspiration to strive for “better”, others may find themselves feeling depressed, anxious, or even ashamed after frequently using social media. If they feel they did not live up to society’s unrealistic standards of perfection, they feel like a complete failure. It is popular belief that perfectionism is a strength and drives success, especially for young adults, but recent research says otherwise.

Perfectionism is defined by Thomas Curran and Andrew Hill (2017) as a combination of excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations. A recent study by these psychologists called “Perfectionism is Increasing Over Time” (2017) found supporting evidence indicating that most recent college students are reporting higher levels of socially prescribed perfectionism than previous generations. This means that recent college students feel that other people judge them harshly and consequently feel more pressure to embody perfection in order to feel worthy. Curran and Hill (2017) describe this aspect of perfectionism to be the most destructive; expectations of others can be devastating when one doesn’t meet these unrealistic standards.

This rise in perfectionism could be affecting mental health of young adults as there has been an increase in levels of depression, anxiety, and suicide among college students in recent years. Therefore, it is important to identify aspects of perfectionism early. If you have found yourself procrastinating turning in papers because they aren’t “perfect”, feel like you don’t have what it takes to be a successful professional because you got a “B” on an exam, or are looking at social media and feel like your accomplishments don’t matter because you didn’t get sufficient “likes” on your post, you may be experiencing some socially prescribed perfectionism. Other signs include being motivated by fear of failure rather than the pursuit of success or measuring your self-worth entirely in terms of accomplishment and feedback from others. It is easy to feel inadequate when stepping into a world where everyone else’s lives appear perfect and therefore desire to display the same perfection. However, it becomes harmful to our mental health when we are constantly striving to live up to other people’s unrealistic and demanding expectations. It is important to embrace your mistakes, learn from them, and remind yourself that no one’s life is “perfect,” despite appearances.

If you currently identify with some of these traits of perfectionism and would like some guidance, it may be useful to connect with a therapist. Contact Symmetry Counseling at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment with one of our very skilled therapists today!

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