Destructive Perfectionism and How it Affects Students


Josie K. (Edited by Penelope K.), Staff Writers

You might be wondering, what is destructive perfectionism and how does it really affect students? Is it bad? Does it affect me as well?

What is destructive perfectionism?  

   The exact definition of perfectionism: Perfectionism, in psychology, is a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting high performance standards, accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.

The exact definition of destructive: tending to refute or disparage; negative and unhelpful.

     So, if you put it together, destructive perfectionism probably means something along the lines of, someone who tries so hard to get perfect grades, but because of this they stress themselves so much from every little thing that matters for a grade. Writing a paper, or a test stresses them out so much, that if you don’t get a perfect grade, they basically have a mental breakdown.

How many students does destructive perfectionism affect?

        We did a survey of all the members of Newspaper club, and asked them if they thought they suffered from destructive perfectionism (see definition above). After asking everybody (10 people) we found that 7/10 people relate to this characteristic. That means destructive perfectionism affects 70% of the students of Newspaper club. More than 50%. Think, if we surveyed all the students at RMS, do you think we would get a higher or lower percentage then what we have already recorded?

Thoughts of People Who Suffered from Destructive Perfectionism:

     I remember as an undergrad, I had a lab partner who was such a perfectionist that he often submits papers late. Or sometimes he just won’t submit them at all. He was one of the smartest people I knew in college, but he had Fs on his transcript because he can’t stand to turn in a mediocre paper.

How can You Prevent Destructive Perfectionism?

         You might want to look at Joan Bolker’s Writing Your Dissertation in 15 Minutes a Day. It is geared to advanced grad students, obviously, but the focus is on overcoming perfectionism through the routine production of drafts. The idea is that you begin daily writing very early in the project and train yourself to write even when you feel unsure of your ideas. I found the book helpful.

     I think the key to grad school, for many people, might have to do with embracing mediocrity. As the competition intensifies, being just good enough to survive becomes more of an achievement. It’s sort of like “Survivor”–winning this week’s challenge is less important than just staying on the island to the end of the game

Create more realistic personal goals and expectations

         Recognize that you are already enough and you don’t need to be perfect to continue making progress towards your goals.

By setting more realistic goals, you’ll eliminate excess energy that would go towards attempting the impossible, and have a more balanced lifestyle.

Remember that time off is not time wasted

     It’s easy to look at relaxation as a waste of time when you’re in the mindset of an overachieving perfectionist. However, it’s important to remember that sleeping and engaging in light-hearted activities is a healthy and necessary way of refreshing your motivation.

Practice taking time to relax and recharge your batteries so that you can continue pursuing your dreams.

Schedule breaks and recharge

         Instead of thinking, “I’ll take some time off when it feels right,” go the extra step and schedule relaxation. Chances are, you’re probably a Type A personality who needs to prioritize self-care or it won’t ever happen.

Imagine what your life would look like if you gave relaxation even half the effort you put into other endeavors.

     Comment down below if we should make a poll about people who have or haven’t suffered from destructive perfectionism and comment down below if you have any other tips for people who are suffering from destructive perfectionism.