The Dangers of Striving for Perfection

The Dangers of Striving for Perfection

“Perfectionism is internalized oppression"—Gloria Steinem

Is your daughter a perfectionist? Does she exhibit traits that you find both exasperating and admirable? If so, you may have reason to be concerned. According to an article in Axios, researchers have developed a special test called the "Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale" to measure perfectionism. Results from this test show that rates of perfectionism among college students have been steadily rising since the 1980s, with a notable spike in the last two decades.

The Rise of Perfectionism

The increasing trend of perfectionism could be attributed to several factors. One significant factor is the heightened pressure from parents. Many parents, perhaps unknowingly, pass on their perfectionist tendencies to their children. This pressure to excel in every aspect of life can create an environment where children feel that anything less than perfect is unacceptable.

Another contributing factor is the culture of constant comparison, fueled by social media. Platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok provide a continuous stream of curated and filtered content, showcasing people's seemingly perfect lives. This can lead to unrealistic expectations and a perpetual cycle of comparison, where individuals feel they must measure up to the perfection they see online.

The Dangers of Perfectionism

The risks associated with perfectionism are significant. When individuals set unrealistically high standards for themselves and fail to meet them, it can lead to anxiety and depression. The constant fear of making mistakes or falling short of expectations can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. Moreover, perfectionists often struggle with low self-esteem, as their self-worth becomes contingent on their ability to achieve perfection.

Perfectionism can also hinder personal growth and creativity. When the fear of failure is overwhelming, individuals may avoid trying new things or taking risks. This aversion to failure stifles innovation and limits opportunities for learning and development.

Breaking Free from Perfectionism

According to the article, one effective way to break out of the perfectionist mindset is to pick up new hobbies, especially those that don't come naturally. Engaging in activities where struggling or even failing is part of the process can help individuals overcome their fear of failure and boost creativity. By embracing the learning process and accepting that mistakes are a natural part of growth, perfectionists can begin to shift their mindset and develop a healthier relationship with success and failure.

Personal Reflections on Perfectionism

While I don’t consider myself to be a perfectionist, like most people, I tend to avoid those things that don’t come easily. Like math. Or skiing. My tendency is to give up before I risk failure. The one time I decided to stick with something hard, however, turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. I’m referring to parenthood. I’m kidding. Sort of. 

Actually, I’m referring to my multi-year stint in Tang Soo Do. I joined the sport with my son, who had a propensity for quitting new activities before he even got started. My goal was to show him that perseverance had its benefits. True to form, he quit a few months in, but, in an effort to set a good example, I stuck with it. Did it come easily to me? Not at all. I’m hardly a natural athlete. Did I want to quit during grueling warm up sessions of jumping jacks and push ups? You bet, but in the end I learned valuable lessons about doing my best without expecting perfection. And ultimately I earned my second degree black belt, a feat no one who knows me would have expected. 

The Merion Mercy Academy Difference

Merion Mercy Academy fosters an environment where students are not pressured to achieve perfection. Instead, we emphasize the importance of trying new things, even if it means facing failure along the way. This philosophy is rooted in the belief that failure is a valuable part of the learning process. At Merion Mercy, many girls step out of their comfort zones to try a sport for the very first time, creating opportunities for them to succeed, grow, and, yes, occasionally fail. This experience helps them build resilience and discover their strengths.

Additionally, MMA expects its students to join at least two clubs or activities. This requirement is designed to push girls out of their comfort zones and encourage them to explore new interests. Whether they find a new passion or realize something isn't for them, the process of exploration is invaluable. By promoting a culture where experimentation and failure are seen as integral to growth, Merion Mercy Academy helps students develop into well-rounded, confident individuals ready to face future challenges.

Supporting Perfectionist Tendencies in Children

If you recognize perfectionist tendencies in your child, there are several strategies you can use to support them in developing a healthier mindset:

  1. Encourage a Growth Mindset: Emphasize the importance of effort and learning over innate ability. Praise your child for their hard work and persistence rather than their inherent talent.

  2. Normalize Mistakes: Help your child understand that making mistakes is a natural and valuable part of the learning process. Share stories of your own failures and what you learned from them.

  3. Set Realistic Expectations: Encourage your child to set achievable goals and to break larger tasks into manageable steps. This can help prevent them from feeling overwhelmed and reduce the pressure to be perfect.

  4. Model Healthy Behaviors: Demonstrate how to handle setbacks and failures in a positive way. Show your child that it's okay to not be perfect and that resilience and adaptability are more important.

  5. Promote Balance: Ensure that your child has a well-rounded life with time for relaxation, hobbies, and social activities. This can help them maintain perspective and reduce the focus on perfection in one area.

As our beloved Sisters of Mercy foundress Catherine McAuley said, “The simplest and most practical lesson I know is to resolve to be good today, but better tomorrow.” Better, not perfect. 

Have any lessons learned on perfectionism? Share with us in the comments!