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Why Perfectionism is Associated with Depression, Anorexia Nervosa, Suicide Ideation and Early Death

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My work is not like a painter’s work. It is not that I can complete the painting; it is one long painting. And I will be giving touches to the painting even when I am breathing my last — still, the painting will be incomplete. – Osho

Across the globe, young people are reporting to clinicians at unprecedented levels with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. At a global level, over 300 million people are estimated to suffer from depression, equivalent to 4.4% of the world’s population. One of the fundamental reason for this mental disorder is that the younger people is showing greater tendency toward perfectionism. This market-based society, principles of neoliberalism, focus on self-interest and competition, enormous pressure to demonstrate their value and outperform their peers (both in family and workplace) has created an atmosphere to prove their worthiness in the society. If people rank poorly, the logic of our market-based society dictates that they are less deserving – that their inferiority reflects some personal weakness or flaw. The very idea of perfection has driven the whole of mankind to a state of madness.

Are we infallible? Broadly speaking, perfectionism is an irrational desire for flawlessness, combined with harsh self-criticism. But on a deeper level, what sets a perfectionist apart from someone who is simply diligent or hard-working is a single-minded need to correct their own imperfections. Perfectionists need to be told that they have achieved the best possible outcomes, whether that’s through scores and metrics, or other peoples’ approval. When this need is not met, they experience psychological turmoil, because they equate mistakes and failure to inner weakness and unworthiness. To think in terms of perfection means you are thinking in terms of ideology, goals, values, shoulds, should-nots. You have a certain pattern to fulfill and if you fall from the pattern you will feel immensely guilty, a sinner. And the pattern is bound to be such that you cannot achieve it. If you can achieve it then it will not be of much value to the ego.

So, the intrinsic quality of the perfectionist ideal is that it should be unattainable, only then is it worth attaining. You see the contradiction? And that contradiction creates a schizophrenia: you are trying to do the impossible, which you know perfectly well is not going to happen it cannot happen in the very nature of things. If it can happen then it is not much of a perfection; then anybody can do it. So only two alternatives emerge from this: one is, you start feeling guilty. If you are innocent, simple, intelligent, you will start feeling guilty and guilt is a state of sickness. And guilt is rooted in the idea of perfection. The second alternative is: if you are cunning then you will become a hypocrite, you will start pretending that you have achieved it. You will deceive others and deceive yourself. You will start living in illusions, hallucinations. To pretend, to live a life of pretensions is far worse than the life of a guilty person. The guilty person at least is simple, but the pretender, the hypocrite is a crook.

Irrational ideals of the perfect self have become desirable – even necessary – in a world where performance, status and image define a person’s usefulness and value. You don’t need to look far to find examples; corporations and their marketers offer all manner of cosmetic and material solutions for the flawed consumer. Meanwhile, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat provide platforms to exchange curations of the perfect version of oneself and lifestyle with others. This is a culture which preys on insecurities and amplifies imperfection, impelling young people to focus on their personal deficiencies. As a result, some young people brood chronically about how they should behave, how they should look, or what they should own. Essentially, agitating to perfect themselves and their lives. In one of the poems of Rabindranath Tagore… the critics all over the world criticized it because it suddenly begins and it suddenly ends; there is no beginning and no end. It seems as if it is a middle portion — something in the beginning is missing, something in the end is missing.

And Rabindranath was asked, “You have been criticized but why are you silent?”He said, “Those people don’t understand life. Life is always in the middle, and my poetry represents life. Out of nowhere it begins, and suddenly it disappears and evaporates without giving you the feeling of completion.”We don’t know the beginning of life, we don’t know the end of life. We are always in the middle and everybody has been always in the middle. It is a process, an ongoing process, a river that goes on flowing. That’s the beauty of it, that’s the glory of it. Young people should learn to detach from the false notions of this society and learn to accept the imperfections which makes us human. To ask for perfection is to ask for death. Death is the full-stop. In life you we can use commas, semi-colons, but never a full-stop.It’s no wonder that there’s substantial evidence indicating that perfectionism is associated with (among other things) depression, anorexia nervosa, suicide ideation and early death. For the first time on record, young people are expected to be materially less well-off in adulthood than their parents. And it’s not just their material well-being that’s at stake – their mental and physical well-being is threatened by this hidden epidemic of perfectionism. Machines are perfect. Imperfection is not something to be condemned; it is something to be rejoiced in, something to be appreciated — because it is the principle of life itself.

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Why perfectionism is associated with depression, anorexia nervosa, suicide ideation and early death. (2019, January 28). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 25, 2021, from
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