Pitfalls of Perfectionism

Perfectionism may be the ultimate self-defeating behavior. It turns people into slaves of success—but keeps them focused on failure, dooming them to a lifetime of doubt and depression. It also winds up undermining achievement in the modern world.

By Hara Estroff Marano, published on March 01, 2008 – last reviewed on June 22, 2011

You could say that perfectionism is a crime against humanity. Adaptability is the characteristic that enables the species to survive—and if there’s one thing perfectionism does, it rigidifies behavior. It constricts people just when the fast-moving world requires more flexibility and comfort with ambiguity than ever. It turns people into success slaves.

Perfectionists, experts now know, are made and not born, commonly at an early age. They also know that perfectionism is increasing. One reason: Pressure on children to achieve is rampant, because parents now seek much of their status from the performance of their kids. And, by itself, pressure to achieve is perceived by kids as criticism for mistakes; criticism turns out to be implicit in it. Perfectionism, too, is a form of parental control, and parental control of offspring is greater than ever in the new economy and global marketplace, realities that are deeply unsettling to today’s adults.

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