Understanding the pressure to be perfect
Healthy mind, healthy body. It's an old saying, one that has been confirmed by psychologists and health care specialists who regularly observe the psychological factors that directly influence our health. But what kind of psychological behaviour is harmful and how does it influence health problems?
For Dr. Gordon Flett, Canada Research Chair in Personality and Health, many health problems are rooted in our personalities and how we typically respond to stress and life challenges. He focuses on people who go beyond the healthy striving for excellence by trying to reach absolute perfection. Unfortunately, people who feel they must be “perfect” experience many costs and consequences, paying a high emotional price for this preoccupation.
Along with Paul Hewitt, a professor in the Department of Psychology at The University of British Columbia, Flett co-developed their Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale. This measure reflects their conceptual focus on the personal and interpersonal components of perfectionism. They found that some people not only want to be perfect, they also need to seem perfect. This quest is associated with chronic stress and various forms of maladjustment, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and suicidal tendencies.
Flett is further exploring how and why perfectionists are vulnerable to failure, setbacks and stressors. He is expanding his research on the role of perfectionism in physical illness by evaluating factors that contribute to this association. Other work will focus on understanding perfectionism in children and adolescents in light of indications that perfectionism is growing among this group.