Looking at impact of perfectionism on health and well-being

Being a perfectionist may not only hurt your mental health, but may damage your physical health, too.

Experts in the field of perfectionism share their latest findings in Perfectionism, Health, and Well-being, a new research volume co-edited by Danielle Sirianni Molnar, an award-winning adjunct lecturer in the Department of Psychology and also a graduate of the Psychology PhD program at Brock University.

The study of perfectionism in relation to health and well-being is a fast-growing field, particularly because much of the early research has suggested links with poor mental and physical health.

“There are important implications that follow from establishing links between perfectionism and illness,” explains Molnar, who is also a research scientist at the Research Institute on Addictions at SUNY Buffalo.

“One theme that becomes very clear throughout our book is that the effects of perfectionism do not appear to be limited to particular aspects of health and well-being.”

Anxiety, eating disorders and depression, are among the negative effects that have been observed, but physical health problems, chronic illness, and even early mortality also have links to perfectionism.

This is in part because our stress response is meant to be short-lived, so that our bodies can recover. When our stress response is prolonged, the major systems of the body, including the immune system, become taxed.

But many perfectionists create great stress for themselves by constantly striving for unrealistic standards. Perfectionists also tend to draw out their stress response by ruminating about perceived past failures, trying to avoid their problems altogether, or engaging in unrelenting self-blame and self-derogation when things go awry.

Luckily, research shows that perfectionists can learn to be kinder to themselves.

“Many perfectionists feel that they will fall to pieces and lose an important aspect of their identity if they relinquish their impossibly high standards,” says Molnar. “Clinicians and health-care providers are encouraged to focus their attention on helping perfectionists reduce their tendency to blame themselves when they do not meet their incredibly high standards, and to help perfectionists develop a more compassionate view of themselves.”

This new book, the first on the subject, collects the latest findings from researchers and theorists and explores new models to help clarify the processes that link different types of perfectionism to health and/or well-being. These models can be useful to researchers, clinicians and service providers.

Perfectionism, Health, and Well-being, edited by Fuschia Sirois and Danielle S. Molnar, is available from Springer.

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