Extreme Perfectionism and Suicide Risk


Maybe perfectionism should be listed as a separate suicide risk factor in clinical assessments and interventions.

Perfectionism is the tendency to set personal standards so high they can only be met with extreme difficulty, or are impossible to meet. Falling short of these standards can cause mental and emotional distress such as a sense of failure or impending catastrophe.

Extreme Perfectionism and Suicide

In a recent Review of General Psychology research article, the authors document an association between a continual need to appear perfect with hopeless, and suicide. They link an external pressure to be perfect with suicidal ideation (thought), discuss how the presentation of perfection and self-concealment can lead to “out of the blue” suicidal behavior, and point out that perfectionists are good at forming effective suicide plans.

Naturally, having traits of perfectionism does not mean a person is automatically at risk for suicide. The authors of this research are talking about people who feel pressured to constantly maintain extreme precision. However, in the spirit of National Suicide Prevention Month, it seems appropriate to point out the potential for perfectionism to trigger suicidal behavior.

“We summarize data showing consistent links between perfectionism and hopelessness and discuss the need for an individualized approach that recognizes the heightened risk for perfectionists,” said researcher Professor Gordon Flett. “They also tend to experience hopelessness, psychological pain, life stress, overgeneralization, and form of emotional perfectionism that restricts the willingness to disclose suicidal urges and intentions.”

Recognizing Problematic Perfectionism

Some people use their perfectionist traits to an advantage and have found positive ways of coping with sub-perfect performance. Perfectionism is only a problem when it causes frequent physical or psychological distress.

You may have a problem with perfectionism if:

  1. You have difficulty meeting your own standards.
  2. You are frequently depressed, frustrated, angry, or anxious as you try to meet your standards.
  3. Your standards get in the way of effective functioning such as making it hard to complete tasks, meet deadlines, join a spontaneous activity, or trust the capability of others.
  4. People have frequently told you that your standards are unrealistically high.

If you suspect your life is being made difficult by perfectionism, consider asking for professional help. It is scary for most perfectionists to let go of their long held standards, and you may need help realizing what realistic standards look like.

Realistic standards are not the same as low ones. The goal will always be to do your best but without costing you good mental-physical health, or quality stress-free time with yourself and others.

Source: Science Daily; Anxiety BC
Photo credit: Wetsun / flickr


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