Is Perfectionism Bad For You? Science Says Millennials Struggle Most With It


Ask my mother, and she’ll tell you I’ve had a type A personality since well before my teenage years. The earliest memory I have of this was in seventh grade. One night, before my end-of-term project was due, I lost the memory stick I’d saved my work on. I literally freaked the f*ck out; I’m talking total mental and physical breakdown. Clearly, being this way has its pros and cons, so is perfectionism bad for you, necessarily? It definitely can be, but apparently, this character flaw that has followed me well into my 20s isn’t entirely my fault, seeing as how science now says millennials are most likely to be perfectionists than any other generation.

Honestly, I can’t say I’m all that surprised. While my parents and their brothers and sisters have always seemed super laid-back about life, preaching a kind of “whatever happens, happens” motto, I’ve always had this sort of idealistic vision mapped out in my head, and I often struggle to accept when things don’t go as planned. This doesn’t only apply to the bigger picture, either. When I can’t pick up a new skill in the workplace quickly, or when I wake up with a stomachache the day of an important meeting or appointment, my knee-jerk response is to shut down and panic.

Perfection is no longer just an unattainable goal; perfectionism has spiraled out into a toxic state of mind, and while you should never settle for less than your personal best, there’s something to be said about how these ideals mess with a person’s mental health.

According to new research, millennials put more pressure on themselves to be perfect than any other generation before them.

Of course, not everyone born between 1981 and the early 2000s is a perfectionist. Still, the study makes a whole lot of sense when I think about just how type A I am compared to my oldest sister, who was born in the 1970s. Coincidence? Maybe. But, according to a recent study published in Psychological Bulletin that was performed from 1989 to 2016, if generations had superlatives, millennials would be voted most likely to put pressure on themselves, and even others around them, to live up to their definition of perfect. Not exactly the title we were going for, huh guys?

It’s a pretty bold statement to make, but researchers have plenty of solid evidence to back up the claim. Having studied over 40,000 American, Canadian, and British college students over the years, Refinery29 reports that researchers issued a test to the study participants to measure changes in three types of perfectionism over the years: self-oriented, socially prescribed, and other-oriented (aka setting the standards high for other people to meet). From the beginning of the experiment to the tail end, self-oriented scores increased by 10 percent, socially prescribed perfectionism sky-rocketed 33 percent, and other-oriented scores were raised by 16 percent.

Social media often plays a key role in the need for perfection.

Yet another reason why social media is the devil reincarnate (I’m only sort of kidding), it turns out scrolling through your social feed and internalizing your sister’s best friend’s cousin’s digital highlight reel is one of the main reasons why you might feel so compelled to be flawless at all times. The researchers in this study found that outlets like Facebook, Instagram, and even Snapchat encourage us to create this kind of "perfect public image," and at the same time, these platforms expose us to other people's "perfect self-representations." It's a really toxic cycle that ultimately causes us to compare, contrast, and criticize our lives based on other people's profiles, which are hardly ever accurate depictions of real life anyway.

Unfortunately, a perfectionist nature is essentially instilled in millennials from the get-go, and I can only imagine this toxicity becoming worse in generations to come if social media continues to thrive and grow. Thomas Curran, PhD, and lead author of the study, told Refinery29 that millennials "have more metrics to measure success — and therefore failure — than their parents" as a result of social media. Additionally, this generation deals with mounting pressure to ace exams for the school and state, as well as the competition to break into such a limited job market.

We need to accept that no one and nothing is perfect, and that's totally OK.

Trust me, as someone who has struggled through disordered eating and body image dysmorphia — on top of having a type A personality in literally every other aspect of my life — I completely understand that being OK with imperfection is way easier said than done. It's also incredibly cliché, but here's the thing about clichés: they're cliché because they're true.

To quote Hannah Montana (don't judge me), "nobody's perfect, you live and you learn it." It might take a few tries, maybe even a few years, but the more you remind yourself that everyone has off days, and the more you practice self-love, you'll come to realize that who you are is 100 percent enough. So stop logging into social media only to fawn over another person's picture-perfect life, and start living your own to the fullest, free of judgment and full of love.