Generation Z’s Pursuit of Perfectionism Could Affect Their Mental Health

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Generation Z’s Pursuit of Perfectionism Could Affect Their Mental Health

By Victoria Kim 01/05/18

According to a new study, millennials are dealing with "excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations."

Image: 
Sad young woman holding mobile phone in bedroom at home

The pursuit of perfectionism is more pervasive than ever, says new research, and it’s negatively affecting young people’s mental health.

A new study published in the Psychological Bulletin observed 41,641 college students from the U.S., Canada, and England from 1999-2016, and identified three types of perfectionism—defined overall as “a combination of excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations.”

The desire for perfectionism is especially pronounced in the United States, according to the study, helped by the pervasive use of social media among the tech-savvy Generation Z.

“These people grew up being constantly evaluated on social media,” said Dr. Barbara Greenberg, a clinical psychologist who specializes in family and relationship issues. “When you are constantly under a literal and figurative microscope—the microscope being social media—of course you are going to become more self-conscious. When self-consciousness and perfectionism increase, anxiety and depression increase as well. They go hand in hand.”

The three types of perfectionism are as follows, as explained by Yahoo Lifestyle:

  • Self-oriented perfectionism is the pressure one puts on oneself to be perfect.
  • Socially-prescribed perfectionism is the pressure one feels from society to be perfect.
  • Other-oriented perfectionism is the pressure one puts on others to be perfect.

These self-imposed pressures are positively associated with clinical depression, body image issues (e.g. anorexia nervosa), social phobia, and even suicidal ideation.

To explain this modern obsession with perfection, the researchers point to a handful of societal factors. “Neoliberalism and its doctrine of meritocracy have combined to shape a culture in which everybody is expected to be perfect themselves and their lifestyles, by striving to meet unrealistic achievement standards,” they wrote. “For parents, this new culture confers an additional burden. On top of their own duty to succeed, they are also responsible for the successes and failures of their children.” 

Recent studies of teenagers and college students have painted a picture of rising depression, anxiety, and self-harm. “These kids are incredibly anxious and perfectionistic,” said Suniya Luthar, a professor of psychology at Arizona State University, according to the New York Times.

There’s nothing wrong with self-improvement, but Dr. Greenberg says perfectionism is not a natural goal for a human being with faults and flaws like everyone else. “It’s in and of itself a problematic concept,” she said. “I think when young people are motivated, that’s a wonderful thing. But motivation and perfectionism are not interchangeable. They are two very different concepts, and unrelated." 

"All I have seen come out of it is anxiety and depression," Greenberg continued. "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.”

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