“Perfectionism develops as a way to cope with that defective sense of self and a sense of not fitting in with others, not fitting in with the world, not having a place in the world,”
An article from Thrive Global about how dangerous perfectionism is to our health, happiness and connection with others.
About two decades ago, a woman knocked on the door of Paul Hewitt, a clinical psychologist based in Vancouver, Canada. Outwardly, Anita — the pseudonym given in Hewitt’s new book — had everything meticulously together: she told her therapist of an idyllic childhood, the supportive family she came from, the daughter she felt close to, her broad network of friends. But the loss of her mom, who was her closest friend and confidant, was a big blow to her; it had happened ten years earlier, and it was a continued source of hurt and anger. More recently, she’d injured her shoulder, forcing her out of her career in food science. However successful she appeared, she was actually suicidal and depressed.
She had tried many treatments to deal with her depression and thoughts of suicide, but none worked; she used the “runner’s high” from long distance swimming as a way to cope with her loss, though the shoulder injury ended that. Few people in her life knew the depth of her pain. She had come to Hewitt because he’d heard an interview with the University of British Columbia psychologist where he talked about the links between depression, suicide, and perfectionism.
“She was one of the most suicidal people I’ve ever worked with,” he tells Thrive Global. Anita’s transformation serves as the central case study in the new book Perfectionism: A Relational Approach to Conceptualization, Assessment, and Treatment, co-authored by Hewitt’s frequent collaborator Gordon Flett, of York University, and the private clinical psychologist Samuel F. Mikail.
Over the past three decades, these researchers have found that far from being a quirk of high-achievers, an innocent humblebrag you give to job interviewers when they ask you what your greatest weakness is (“I’m sometimes a perfectionist”)—this way of approaching life creates or amplifies all sorts of mental health issues. It also signals a problematic relationship with the self. “It’s not a way of thinking,” Hewitt says. “It’s a way of being in the world.” Continue reading