Big Issues

Millennials Are More Likely To Be Perfectionists, And It’s Kind Of A Problem

A recent study found that we're 33 per cent more likely to care what our peers think than generations before us.

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A recent study has found that millennials are more concerned with being ‘perfect’ than previous generations. The study, released in the Psychological Bulletinexamined over 40,000 Canadian, British and American college students aged 18 to 25 between 1989 and 2016.

But it’s not talking about perfectionism in a Monica from Friends subplot kind of way. Or a “my weakness is that I work too hard” humblebrag. Our perfectionism is a lot more nuanced than that.

Millennials Are Under A Lot Of Pressure

The study found that those surveyed displayed “multidimensional perfectionism” which means they have unrealistically high standards for themselves and others.

The authors, Thomas Curran and Andrew P. Hill, defined three different kinds of perfectionism that made up “multidimensional perfectionism”. The first is self-oriented perfectionism, where a person puts pressure on themselves to reach ridiculously unattainable goals. The second is socially prescribed perfectionism, where a person feels like their family and friends are putting pressure on them. The third is other-oriented, which refers to how you view people in your social circles and the standard you hold them up to.

The study noted that since 1989, self-oriented and other-oriented perfectionism have both risen by 10 per cent. But the most “debilitating” of all three, socially prescribed perfectionism, has risen 33 per cent. The reason why socially prescribed perfectionism is so debilitating is because “the perceived expectations of others are experienced as excessive, uncontrollable, and unfair, making failure experiences and negative emotional states”. As such, it’s linked to higher increases in depressive symptoms over time.

But Why Are We Perfectionists?

According to the study, millennials are socially prescribed perfectionists for a variety of reasons.

Mainly, the authors note that the rise of neoliberalism (a fancy word that means a free market system in which people have to compete more with each other) is a contributing factor. This makes us more competitive than ever, and if we fail, we only have ourselves to blame. The authors also add that this competitiveness is backed up by social media usage.

As Lila MacLellan wrote for Quartz, “The explosion of personal branding rituals—the posting of selfies and status updates announcing new relationships, strong grades, or promotions—exposes everyone to idealised versions of their peers, making college students feel that others are racing ahead, closing in on the perfect life.”

What Can We Do About It?

According to the study, perfectionism is a generational affliction – it’s not our fault that we’re this way.

But the problem with perfectionism is that it can result in feelings of anxiety and feeling like we’re never good enough. According to Anxiety BC‘s guide on overcoming perfectionism, “Trying to be perfect is also likely to make you feel stressed and maybe even disappointed with yourself much of time because you are not able to meet your standards easily or at all”.

If this sounds like you, there’s a bunch of avenues you can go down to rewire your thinking. Psychologist Tamar Chansky told the Huffington Post that you can start by “increasing tolerance for growth”, “focusing on the ride, not just the destination” and “destigmatising mistakes”.

But this is just the beginning. It’s always a good idea speak to a professional if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental illness, you can find help by seeking advice from a counsellor or calling Lifeline on 13 11 14.