Perfectionism in Millennials: A Flawed Objective
Sun, April 18, 2021

Perfectionism in Millennials: A Flawed Objective

Perfectionism can lead to self-defeating thoughts or behaviors that make it harder to achieve goals. / Photo by Antonio Guillem via 123rf


The desire to be perfect is something most of us have felt at some point in our lives. Some people search for the perfect partner or companion, study hard to get the perfect test results, and work through the night to smash that perfect presentation. For many years, perfectionism has been seen as a positive trait that increases an individual’s chances of success. However, this sorely misunderstood personality trait can have dangerous consequences.

Perfectionism can lead to self-defeating thoughts or behaviors that make it harder to achieve goals. People who are striving for perfection out of feelings of inadequacy or failure can suffer from stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Brené Brown, a writer and research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, stated that perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to do your best. 

Most of the time, perfectionists believe that nothing they do is enough or worth it unless it is perfect. They tend to compare their work and achievements to the work of others or fixate on achieving flawless output instead of feeling proud of their growth and progress. 

According to Good Therapy, an online therapist directory dedicated to helping people find the right therapist and encouraging ethical therapy practices, there are several signs that you might be a perfectionist. This includes feeling the need to achieve perfection constantly, not being able to perform a task unless you know you can do it perfectly, and taking an excessive amount of time to complete a task that does not typically take others long to complete. 

Also, perfectionists tend to spend 30 minutes writing and rewriting a two-sentence email, believe that missing two points on a test is a sign of failure, focus on the end product rather than the process of learning, and hold oneself to the standards of others' accomplishments. 



The Trend of Perfectionism Among Young People

The millennial generation seems to be doing something that other generations have stigmatized: seeking therapy. The World Health Organization reported that a record number of young people across the world are suffering from serious depression or anxiety. There have been some notions that this happens to them because they are the product of an overindulged, over-entitled, and oversensitive “snowflake generation.” But this is not true.

According to Harvard Business Review, a general management magazine published by Harvard Business Publishing that covers a wide range of topics that are relevant to various industries, management functions, and geographic locations, the reason why many young people have an unstable mental health is because of the excessive standards that they hold for themselves and the harsh self-punishment they routinely engage in. Most of the time, they hold onto unrealistic ideals and expectations on almost every aspect of their lives. 

A 2018 study showed that there has been a significant increase in the levels of self-oriented, socially prescribed, and other-oriented perfectionism among college students between 1989 and 2016. It was reported that socially prescribed perfectionism, the form of perfectionism that exhibits the largest association of mental health issues including anxiety, depression, social phobia, and suicidal thoughts, increased at twice the rate of self-oriented and other-oriented perfectionism. 

Thomas Curran, a lecturer in the Department for Health at the University of Bath, stated that self-oriented perfectionism occurs when "individuals attach irrational importance to being perfect, hold unrealistic expectations of themselves, and are punitive in their self-evaluations.” Meanwhile, self-critical perfectionism is believed to increase the risk of bipolar disorder in people. 


The millennial generation seems to be doing something that other generations have stigmatized: seeking therapy. / Photo by Katarzyna Białasiewicz via 123rf


Millennials Are Proven Perfectionists

A recent study conducted by researchers from Bath University revealed more insight into the increase in perfectionism among millennials. According to All That’s Interesting, a site for curious people who want to know more about what they saw on the news or read in history books, the researchers analyzed past studies about perfectionism among some 42,000 college students in the United States, Canada, and Britain between 1989 and 2016. They discovered that there has been a steady increase of millennials being more obsessed with perfection. 

The rise of perfectionism in this generation is found to be socially motivated rather than something strictly limited to economic pressures or other contexts. Millennials’ excessive-high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations are a byproduct of three factors, namely shifts in parenting styles, increased meritocracy, and neoliberal governance. In addition, clinical psychologist Dr. Barbara Greenberg stated that social media should also be blamed because they end up being constantly evaluated on it. 

The researchers reported that increased perfectionism has caused several health problems beyond anxiety and depression, including high blood pressure, anorexia, suicidal ideation, and early death. “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,” Greenberg said. 

Fortunately, there are several ways to not get drowned in the idea of being perfect all the time: to be aware of the risks of perfectionism, recognize and work through not being obsessed with perfect works, develop self-compassion, and allow long-suppressed emotions and experiences to surface. 

For millennials who are seeking refuge from living a life of perfectionism, it is important to understand that change must start one small step at a time. It may be hard at first but once you get used to it, it will be a lot easier.