In some ways, perfectionism can be helpful. People who are perfectionists tend to produce high-quality work. They are typically on time or early and are always willing to go the extra mile. Perfectionists like learning something new to try over and over again until there are no mistakes. They can be highly successful people that consistently outperform their peers. However, there are downsides to perfectionism. A new study looks at perfectionism and its effects on bipolar disorder.
Perfectionism may be loosely defined as simply having high standards and wanting everything to be flawless. However, there are different types of perfectionism that have been defined by psychologists.
Self-oriented perfectionism is when a person has high standards for themselves. They are intrinsically motivated to make sure everything is as good as it can be. They dislike seeing errors in their work. Self-oriented perfectionists tend to have higher productivity and rates of success.
Other-oriented perfectionism is when people hold others to very high standards. One person will expect another to perform at a higher level, even if the expectations are unrealistically high. It involves a lot of judgement from the perfectionist onto their counterpart. Other-oriented perfectionists may be hard to work with.
Socially-prescribed perfectionists are concerned with how others judge them. They perceive high standards set by those around them and strive to meet those expectations. Unlike the intrinsic motivation seen in self-oriented perfectionism, with socially-prescribed perfectionism motivation is extrinsic. People are motivated not because they want to be the best they can, but because they are expected to be. Socially-prescribed perfectionism can cause more psychological problems than other types of perfectionism.
Perfectionism can lead to a considerable amount of judgement and shame whether it is judging oneself or judging others. When it comes to being self-critical, anxiety often becomes a problem. More than half of people with bipolar disorder also experience at least one type of anxiety disorder. This can come in the form of generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and social anxiety. Obsessive-compulsive disorder also appears in 17% of people with bipolar disorder.
New research from Justine Corry and associates, published in the International Journal of Bipolar Disorders, looks at whether perfectionism may have an effect on depressive or (hypo)manic symptoms as well. The researchers looked at 269 subjects, 24% have either bipolar I or II and there were 167 healthy relatives that were screened as well.
Those with bipolar disorder showed higher levels of anxiety than those without the disorder. This was consistent with all types of perfectionism. They also found that self-oriented perfectionism was associated with increased levels of depressive symptoms with particular focus on rumination. On the other hand, socially-prescribed perfectionism showed an association with (hypo)manic symptoms.
Increased anxiety can be a predictor of either manic or depressive episodes. Since anxiety is correlated with perfectionism, it is important to keep that perfectionism in check, no matter which type. There are a few steps to controlling anxiety-inducing perfectionism:
- Learn to recognize it. This can include having impossibly high standards, black-and-white thinking, “should” statements and increased anxiety or depression related to high standards.
- Focus on what is really needed, not what would be perfect.
- Make realistic goals instead of optimal goals.
- Set limits for yourself (time or otherwise).
- Focus on priorities instead of the small stuff.
- Forgive yourself.
- Recognize that forgiveness isn’t always necessary, that mistakes are part of life.
If you are having an especially hard time with perfectionism and any mood changes that go along with it, make sure to contact your mental health care professionals. Additional psychotherapy or an adjustment in medication may be necessary.
Image credit: Petra Bensted