Why Perfectionism Isn’t as Good as You Think

Why Perfectionism Isn’t as Good as You Think

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[Music] if you've ever prepared for a job interview or heard anything about them there's a good chance you've come across this famously tough question what's your biggest weakness come on really generally interviewers ask this because they want to see if you have some self-awareness but hey you're at a job interview you're supposed to be selling yourself to get around the question a lot of people choose to say that their biggest weakness is being a perfectionist something that I have never claimed but depending on the
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person you're talking to you might actually be sending a different message than you think you are people often think of perfectionism as a good thing and consider it this strong desire to do something well but when psychologists talk about it they're referring to a risk factor for clinical disorders for them there are healthy and unhealthy levels of wanting to succeed and the distinction is really important for someone's mental health usually when someone casually says that there's such a perfectionist they mean that they have high standards or that
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they're motivated to achieve ambitious goals and generally that's okay it's great to be conscientious and want to do a good job especially if you can regroup and move on when you screw up a review in 2006 even showed that according to a few studies people with these traits might have higher subjective well-being some researchers call this attitude positive strivings or functional perfectionism but they're often pretty careful about their wording because when most psychologists talk about perfectionism they mean something different than what people typically
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think for them perfectionism in the clinical sense takes the desire to do a good job one step too far there are a few types of it but to get the general idea imagine a person who just got an a on a test someone who's just conscientious would be okay with that overall even if they missed a few questions but a true perfectionist would feel like a failure just from those few mistakes and even if they got a hundred percent on the next test they would still move those goal posts again maybe by saying that the test itself was too
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easier the class wasn't challenging enough often these perfectionists believe their self-worth is tied to never making a mistake or that people will think less of them if they do which is not healthy one common framework scientists used to study perfectionism divides it into three different dimensions self oriented socially prescribed and other oriented self oriented perfectionism is maybe the most well-known kind it means that you have an unattainable high standard for yourself and get frustrated if you don't
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meet it socially prescribed for affection ism is similar but it's what happens when that high standard is coming from your friends and family in other words you are more worried about letting them down than yourself living under that kind of pressure isn't helpful for anyone and both of these types of perfectionism have been associated with mental health trouble from general anxiety disorder and social anxiety to eating disorders and suicidal thoughts they also seem to make symptoms of depression worse over time and can make the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder harder to
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treat the Third Kind of perfectionism in this framework is called others oriented and while it's a little different it is still not good for you it's where someone applies their unattainable high standard to everyone around them instead of themselves if you've ever had this boss I apologize on their behalf this isn't as well studied as the other types but it seems to be a risk factor for things like narcissistic personality disorder and can also create a tendency to blame others for problems which isn't necessarily a clinical thing but it is
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still not great for relationships and unfortunately it seems like all three kinds of perfectionism have been increasing according to some research one study that showed this was published in 2017 in Psychological bulletin and it looked at college students in the US Canada and the UK between 1989 and 2016 specifically it looked at surveys these students had taken which measured those three kinds of perfectionism and the results showed that the more recent generations of students have reported more perfectionism than older cohorts
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did at their age that means this isn't something to just brush off but the nice thing is perfectionism can totally be treated in some cases it can be done by treating psychological disorders since the perfectionism is linked to so many of them for example in a 2007 study published in depression and anxiety about a home patience with social anxiety disorder were treated with cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT this is a therapy that tries to change the way people feel by targeting their beliefs and automatic thoughts and it normally works pretty
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well for social anxieties it worked this time too but it also lowered people's reported measures of perfectionism specifically their worries about being seen making mistakes the flipside some therapies have been designed to target perfectionism specifically so even if someone isn't dealing with the disorder there are options in 2007 a study from the journal behavior research in therapy tested whether CBT could do this researchers had people do various behavioral experiments like intentionally making mistakes in public
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or they tried to restructure some beliefs like always needing to be busy in the end out of 20 participants who got the treatment 15 showed improvement which is pretty promising more recent paper from 2018 even showed you might not need the therapist for this method to work in the study 120 people completed a short online self-help course based on cognitive therapy for perfectionism and afterward they all had much lower levels of perfectionism on average again especially worries about
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being seen making mistakes the good news is if you're starting to think all this clinical perfectionism stuff might sound like you it seems like professional treatment can help because while it feels really great to succeed it's not worth sacrificing your mental health to do it thanks for watching this episode of scishow psyche and thank you especially to all of our patrons on patreon we are really excited to make content like this and to have your support while we do it if you want to help us keep making free online psychology content go on over to
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patreon.com/scishow [Music]

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