Perfectionism Oftentimes Is the Enemy Of Success

No one is perfect – and even those who think they are cannot be perfect all of the time. Striving for perfection is laudable, but perfection can be the enemy of success – and can lead to failure, disappointment, despair and even suicide. Learning how to set achievable goals is something many perfectionists need to get things accomplished. 

Substituting excellence for perfection, say psychologists and psychiatrists, can help those with this mindset focus, stay on target, and do the possible – and do it well. 

Perfectionism Can Lead to “Negative Relationships”

Four researchers involved in the National Institute of Mental Health's Treatment of Depression Collaborative Research Program studied what they identified as “a self-critical factor, Perfectionism.”  Their findings -- those identified as perfectionists, “had consistently significant negative relationships.”  Examples included an impact on the subjects' social adjustment, clinical functioning and could lead to depression.

The conclusions of that study by S.J. Blatt, S.M. Quinlan, P.A. Pilkonis and M.T. Shea were published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, in an article entitled “Impact of perfectionism and need for approval on the brief treatment of depression: the National Institute of Mental Health Treatment of Depression Collaborative Research Program revisited.” 

Perfectionism Can Cause Depression – and Make it More Difficult to Treat

Perfectionists often are not only depressed, but also difficult to treat because their perfectionism gets in the way of seeking or accepting help. That is the conclusion that two of the four researchers noted when they continued their work. Their findings can be found in another issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, in the article entitled “When and how perfectionism impedes the brief treatment of depression: further analyses of the National Institute of Mental Health Treatment of Depression Collaborative Research Program.”  

Perfectionism Can Lead to Suicide if Untreated

Dr. Sidney J. Blatt of Yale University's Department of Psychiatry warned that “intense perfectionism and severe self-criticism” can lead to suicide." 

He added that with long-term intensive treatment, a number of perfectionists (referred to also as “self-critical individuals”) had made substantial improvement. Before his death in May 104, Blatt noted that “different patients may be differentially responsive to various types of therapy, and that more extensive therapy may be necessary for many highly perfectionistic, self-critical patients.” 

Perfectionism:  "Fear in Really Good Shoes"

It is not only doctors and other researchers who have pointed out the perils of perfectionism.  As Elizabeth Gilbert, the best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love once quipped, perfectionism is "just fear in really good shoes." Gilbert was not being flippant; she says that while on her own journey of self-discovery she met a Tibetan Buddhist nun who explained to her that the root of most psychological problems, including perfectionism, is fear. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, or, as she put it, "fear in really good shoes."