Per­fec­tion­ism can be deadly

Sense of not feel­ing good enough linked to sui­cide

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - HEALTH - BY SI­MON SHERRY BY THE CHRON­I­CLE HER­ALD

“Per­fec­tion­ism is associated with a chronic sense of fail­ure — good enough is never good enough. The per­fec­tion­ist of­ten feels, un­nec­es­sar­ily, that they have failed.”

Per­fec­tion­ism kills, a new study says.

“We found a ro­bust link be­tween per­fec­tion­ism and sui­cide. We found that per­fec­tion­ism, as a part of a per­son’s per­son­al­ity, may place them at risk of more suicidal thoughts and sui­cide at­tempts over time,” said Dal­housie re­searcher Si­mon Sherry, who con­ducted the study with a group of other re­searchers.

“Per­fec­tion­ism is associated with a chronic sense of fail­ure — good enough is never good enough. The per­fec­tion­ist of­ten feels, un­nec­es­sar­ily, that they have failed.”

Ac­cord­ing to the find­ings set to be pub­lished in the Septem­ber 2017 Jour­nal of Per­son­al­ity, the ways per­fec­tion­ism con­trib­utes to sui­cide are un­der-rec­og­nized and mis­un­der­stood.

There’s a gap be­tween what peo­ple be­lieve about per­fec­tion­ism and what science shows to be true, he said.

“Peo­ple of­ten have a favourable and rosy view of per­fec­tion­ism. In op­po­si­tion to that, we’ve found per­fec­tion­ism places peo­ple at risk for sui­cide,” he said.

In fact, per­fec­tion­ism makes peo­ple feel like they want to die, he said.

“We’d say that per­fec­tion­ism is a po­ten­tial killer,” Sherry said.

The Per­ni­cious­ness of Per­fec­tion­ism: A Me­taA­n­a­lytic Review of the Per­fec­tion­ism-Sui­cide Re­la­tion­ship is a meta-anal­y­sis, a study that sum­ma­rizes a body of re­search from 45 stud­ies done over 50 years, draw­ing con­clu­sions from a sta­tis­ti­cal av­er­age of avail­able re­search lit­er­a­ture on per­fec­tion­ism and sui­cide.

The re­search re­vealed that per­fec­tion­ism has many shades, from so­cially-pre­scribed per­fec­tion­ism, con­cern over mis­takes, doubts about ac­tions, and per­fec­tion­is­tic at­ti­tudes to per­fec­tion­is­tic striv­ings, per­sonal stan­dards, parental crit­i­cism, and parental ex­pec­ta­tions.

“Per­fec­tion­is­tic striv­ings’ as­so­ci­a­tion with sui­cide ideation also draws into ques­tion the no­tion that such striv­ings are healthy, adap­tive, or ad­vis­able,” the study found.

The paper cites the Alaska Sui­cide Follow-Back Study of the Alaska In­jury Pre­ven­tion Cen­ter. In 2007, in­ter­views with fam­ily and friends of peo­ple who com­pleted sui­cide found 56 per cent were de­scribed as per­fec­tion­is­tic.

“Per­fec­tion­ists can get to a place of un­bear­able psy­cho­log­i­cal pain where they feel dis­con­nected with other peo­ple and where they feel a dev­as­tat­ing sense of fail­ure.”

In­ter­views with par­ents of ado­les­cents who com­pleted sui­cide re­vealed 68.1 per cent re­ported their child’s “high de­mands and ex­pec­ta­tions” — hall­marks of per­fec­tion­ism — were con­tribut­ing fac­tors, the paper found.

“We know per­fec­tion­ism gen­er­ates an aw­ful lot of stress — in fact, it seems per­fec­tion­ists are chron­i­cally stressed,” Sherry said.

“Per­fec­tion­ists can get to a place of un­bear­able psy­cho­log­i­cal pain where they feel dis­con­nected with other peo­ple and where they feel a dev­as­tat­ing sense of fail­ure.”

World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion statis­tics show one per­son com­mits sui­cide ev­ery 45 sec­onds and a mil­lion com­mit sui­cide ev­ery year — while 10-20 mil­lion at­tempt sui­cide an­nu­ally.

Sui­cide claims more lives than homi­cide and war com­bined. It’s the sec­ond-lead­ing cause of death among Amer­i­can ado­les­cents and it costs the U.S. econ­omy $51 bil­lion an­nu­ally, the study found.

Then there is the lin­ger­ing hu­man im­pact of sui­cide; each case se­ri­ously af­fects at least six peo­ple.

Other au­thors of Sherry’s study in­clude Martin M. Smith, Sa­man­tha Chen and Don­ald H. Saklofske of the Univer­sity of West­ern On­tario, Christo­pher Mushquash of Lake­head Univer­sity, Gor­don L. Flett of York Univer­sity, and Paul L. He­witt of the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia.

The study’s re­sults do not sug­gest per­fec­tion­ism is the sole fac­tor in all sui­cides, but that it can shed light on suicidal be­hav­iours above and be­yond fac­tors like de­pres­sion and hope­less­ness, Sherry said.

So what can be done in a world where the ideal is pro­jected as ideal?

“I think the num­ber one thing is to seek help. Per­fec­tion­ists are of­ten re­luc­tant to seek help and they’re re­luc­tant to ad­mit they’re not per­fect,” he said.

Con­nec­tiv­ity is made more dif­fi­cult by per­fec­tion­ism. Peo­ple with per­fec­tion­is­tic ten­den­cies may fre­quently feel dis­sat­is­fied with oth­ers and dis­con­nected from them — and the de­sire to present a per­fect front keeps peo­ple from get­ting help.

“Un­for­tu­nately, per­fec­tion­ism it­self seems to be a bar­rier to help-seek­ing . . . Per­fec­tion­ists of­ten present an out­ward façade of per­fec­tion to the world, and hide their dis­tress be­hind it,” Sherry said.

“They need to break through the façade and seek help for their dis­tress.”

CHRON­I­CLE HER­ALD PHOTO

Dal­housie re­searcher Si­mon Sherry and a group of re­searchers have found links be­tween per­fec­tion­ism and sui­cide in a re­cent study.

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