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Is perfectionism a danger to youth of our times?

  Sep 16, 2018

Is perfectionism a danger to youth of our times?

Perfectionism is a personality trait characterized by a person's striving for flawlessness and setting high performance standards, accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others' evaluations. According to some observers, the perfectionist does not necessarily believe that one can attain a perfect life or state of living. Rather, a perfectionist practices steadfast perseverance in obtaining the best possible life or state of living.
That there are many positive and negative aspects.. If it is not properly pursued, perfectionism drives people to attempt to achieve an unattainable ideal or unrealistic goal, while properly followed, perfectionism can make one adapt well to sometimes motivate the person to reach their goals optimally. Perfectionism is at the root of creativity, innovation and progress.
When perfectionists do not reach their goals, they often fall into depression and low self-esteem.
Broadly speaking, perfectionism is an irrational desire for flawlessness, combined with harsh self-criticism. But on a deeper level, what sets a perfectionist apart from someone who is simply diligent or hard-working is a single-minded need to correct their own imperfections.
Perfectionists need to be told that they have achieved the best possible outcomes, whether that’s through scores and metrics, or other peoples’ approval. When this need is not met, they experience psychological turmoil, because they equate mistakes and failure to inner weakness and unworthiness.
Irrational ideals of the perfect self have become desirable – even necessary – in a world where performance, status and image define a person’s usefulness and value.
This is a culture which preys on insecurities and amplifies imperfection, impelling young people to focus on their personal deficiencies. As a result, some young people brood chronically about how they should behave, how they should look, or what they should own. Essentially, agitating to perfect themselves and their lives.
Young people are typically ambitious, bright and hard-working. They have a broad network of friends, and most come from supportive families. Yet no matter how well-adjusted they can appear, we find that they are increasingly seeking support for mental health issues.
Student mental illness is at record highs. And right across the globe, young people are reporting to clinicians at unprecedented levels with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
One possible reason for this is that today’s young people are the first generation to grow up in a society based on the principles of market. Over the last 50 years, communal interest and civic responsibility have been progressively eroded, replaced by a focus on self-interest and competition in a supposedly free and open market place.
In this new market-based society, young people are evaluated in a host of new ways. Social media, school and university testing and job performance assessments mean young people can be sifted, sorted and ranked by peers, teachers and employers. If young people rank poorly, the logic of our market-based society dictates that they are less deserving – that their inferiority reflects some personal weakness or flaw.
It’s no wonder that there’s substantial evidence indicating that perfectionism is associated with (among other things) depression, anorexia nervosa, suicide ideation and early death.
Right values should be inculcated like collaboration and community achievement. Happiness curricula should be introduced. Ethics classes should be taught by world class philosophers by digital media to expand the worldview of the young.
It’s time for organisations such as schools and universities, as well as the politicians and civil servants who help to shape the way these organisations operate, to take steps to safeguard the welfare of young people. They must resist marketised forms of competition, at the expense of young people’s mental health. They should teach the importance of compassion over competition. If they do not, the rise of perfectionism – and its association with serious mental illness – is likely to continue unabated.