Health, Life

3 Reasons Why Perfectionism Has Increased In Young People Since 1980s

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Hi, my name is Kiri and I’m a perfectionist. I’ve always been this way. It’s something that appears to be not only built into my DNA, but I’ve picked up from my parents. Nature and nurture. But I’ve definitely got worse as I’ve got older.

And I’m not shocked to learn that a new study has found that perfectionism has increased significantly since the 1980s. New research by the American Psychological Association sheds light on just how far young people will go today to try to reach perfection – in every area of their lives.

The research analysed data from 41,641 American, Canadian and British college students. Three types of perfectionism were measured:  self-oriented, socially prescribed, and other-oriented (placing unrealistic standards on others). The more recent students had higher scores of perfectionism on all three.

  • Self-oriented perfectionism score increased by 10 percent
  • Socially prescribed increased by 33 percent
  • Other-oriented increased by 16 percent

So what exactly is perfectionism? According to authors of the study Thomas Curran, PhD and Andrew Hill, PhD it can be described as:

An irrational desire to achieve along with being overly critical of oneself and others.

Yeah, that sounds about right. For some reason, nothing is ever good enough for me. No matter how well I do, I’ll always find something negative to say about myself. I can’t accept compliments without saying ‘Oh thanks…BUT’.

When I was 18 years old I got given a Mini Cooper for my birthday. But there was a catch, I could only keep it if I became world champion. WHHAAT?!! I mean, if that’s not pressure to be perfect I don’t know what is. I did become a World Champion under a technicality, and to me that wasn’t good enough. Therefore, because I’ve not achieved this, in my mind, I’m generally failing at life.

I’ve fought very hard to break this cycle of thinking. I have to keep reminding myself that there are other ways to be successful in life than sporting glory. Like running my own copywriting business, being a genuinely good person, and having the love of friends and family. I don’t think I’m quite there yet, but someday I hope to be more satisfied with my achievements.

Today’s young people are competing with each other in order to meet societal pressures to succeed and they feel that perfectionism is necessary in order to feel safe, socially connected and of worth

I heard about this research on LBC radio. Yes, my husband and I are officially an old married couple. We like to listen about current issues and have a debate with each other in the car. Well, they were having a conversation about why young people are such perfectionists these days. I didn’t get time to listen to people calling in, so I’m having a little brainstorm myself.

Here are three core reasons why I think perfectionism has increased in young people recently (particularly the last ten years).

  1. Social Media

I mean, where do I even start when it comes to social media? The pressure to be as good as everyone else is intense. Not just your close friends who are bragging about weddings, babies, promotions, new cars etc. on Facebook, but celebrities and bloggers on Instagram.

It makes us feel like pretty much every area of our life should be top notch, from how we look to the lifestyle we lead. And although most people are aware that only the smiley happy successful parts of people’s lives are being shared, it still gets to us. We know that sometimes people are sat at home sobbing in their pyjamas whilst eating ice cream – but not many people share this part of their lives. The bad part.

We all have bad parts, so why are we so afraid to voice them? You get that fear of being judged, and you don’t want your nice shiny fantastic news feed to be tainted by failures. What’s so wrong with failing anyway? You need to do it to grow and evolve and be a better, stronger person.

Do a little experiment, for one day, note down all the little thoughts that pass through your mind as you scroll social media feeds. How you feel when your friend is showing off their enormous new house, or when someone posts ten pictures of their kids. Then read all your thoughts back to yourself and you will probably be horrified at how harsh they are and how bad they make you feel.

What will happen if we continue down this path? Surely, at some point we will have had enough of reading about everyone else’s happiness, and focus more on our own? Even now my friends are starting to realise how bad a quick check of Facebook is for their mental health. I for one, really hope we gravitate away from these social sites and living in a virtual world, and come back down to earth, to reality.

  1. Constant communication

We talk to friends, family, loved ones and relatives a lot more often these days. I’m talking like 20 times a day. Think back, and within the past week, you will probably have messaged a close friend that amount of times on Whatsapp. Rewind 20 years, and people would call their friends on a landline every couple of weeks, if that.

We are constantly updating our friends and family about our lives. And because we talk to them so often, each time, we have less goodness to share. So we try and find ways to make it seem as if we are doing even more brilliant stuff.

If you only called your friend once every two weeks you would probably have more interesting and positive news to share.

And the group chats, well, they definitely contribute to perfectionism too. You basically having a big ‘I did this I did that’ conversation with ten other people. It’s like the pressure of Facebook but on a smaller and more intense scale.

  1. Access to information on how to be better

Google I’m talking about you. Another reason why we might be such perfectionists these days is because the answers on how to be perfect are all over the internet. If you want to be better at something, you can Google it, and find the answer instantly.

The internet is an amazing thing because we all have the ability to do so much more than we could a few decades ago. But that comes with a price. It means we sometimes try to do too much, to study too many courses, to research things we don’t really need to know about.

For example, you might be throwing a dinner party for your friends and get far too obsessed over researching how to throw the perfect dinner party. Every search presents new ideas and better ways to make the evening more of a success.

Another example would be health and fitness. We read and come across so many articles, adverts and images every day that make us feel like we need to be thinner, stronger, better, healthier. For many people this is a good thing, but there’s a line. Some people strive for unrealistic perfection because the internet makes them think it’s possible.

Main image courtesy of Kristina Gasperas, hair by Kasia Fortunia.