It’s estimated that two in five of us display the perfectionist “trait”. And thanks to social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, “increasing numbers are concerned about being – or appearing to be – perfect”, according to Gordon Flett, professor of health psychology at York University in Canada. “It causes extreme stress and can affect not only relationships, but your health.”
Given these concerns, some experts such as Dr. Danielle Molnar, a psychologist at Brock University, Canada, go so far as to suggest perfectionism should be considered as a risk factor for disease in the same way as obesity and smoking. Whether this trait is a modifiable risk factor like the latter two remains to be determined.
The tennis megastar Andre Agassi opened his recent autobiography with the saying, “I hate tennis.” According to Professor Flett, Agassi’s father was a demanding “other-oriented perfectionist”. “He’d send 1,000 balls to his son in the hot Florida climate, no matter how Andre was feeling.”
Dr. Flett and his team distinguish three types of perfectionists.
1) “Self-oriented perfectionists”, who focus on their high personal standards of perfection;
2) “Other-oriented perfectionists”, who have exacting standards for those around them;
3) “Socially prescribed perfectionists”, who believe other people, such as their parents, bosses or colleagues, demand perfection from them.
A large study involving 500 adults who took a questionnaire called the “Multi-Dimensional Perfectionism Scale”, indicated that “socially prescribed perfectionists” had worse physical health, made more visits to the doctor and took more sick days.
Another study published in Circulation, involving more than 6,000 heart disease patients showed that perfectionists with a negative outlook were three times more likely to experience more heart problems than those with positive personalities.
On the whole, recent research suggests that perfectionism is causing not just psychological stress as perfectionists feels the weight of pressure to be perfect, but increased risk of irritable bowel disease (IBS), insomnia, heart disease and even early death.