Perfectionism and Addiction: A Surprising Link
While many people think that perfectionism simply means having high standards for themselves by achieving huge goals, the truth is that perfectionism can actually be much darker. Perfectionism and addiction are surprisingly linked. If you are someone who struggles with perfectionism, this article is for you. We’ll discuss how and why perfectionism develops, how perfectionism can actually support addiction, and what you can do to overcome perfectionist habits and improve your life.
What is Perfectionism?
Perfectionism is most often characterized by a person's striving for flawlessness. They set high standards, accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others' thoughts. At a glance, this doesn’t seem too harmful. But if we consider how perfectionism is developed, we’ll discover that perfectionism is often rooted in an intense fear of not being good enough. The belief that you are only loveable and worthy if you are perfect and high-achieving. These thoughts often lead to anxiety, depression, and even addiction.
So how is perfectionism developed? There are thought to be three reasons why people become perfectionists. These ideals are based on nearly 30 years of research by Thomas Curran and Andrew P. Hill.
1. The rise of competitive individualism.
Over the last few decades, we have become more preoccupied with improving our social status. Many Americans have a belief that it needs to appear they have reached a certain level of success by societal standards. They put immense pressure on themselves to maintain this appearance. This belief has been compounded by the advent of social media. People only post about their successes, the best parts of their days, edited versions of their bodies, and portray that as normal. We begin to compare ourselves, our bodies and our achievements to a snapshot of someone else’s life. Then we wonder why we haven’t achieved the same successes.
According to recent cohort data from the United States and the United Kingdom, the incidence of body dysmorphia and eating disorders has risen by about 30% among late adolescent girls since the advent of social media. Feeling this need to compete with others has left us feeling inadequate and causes us to strive for unobtainable goals.
2. Increased importance on meritocracy
It’s no secret that Americans have been putting more pressure on high school and college students to perform at their best. There is a belief that in order to achieve a high level of success, you must make straight A’s, attend an Ivy League school or obtain a secondary degree. Perhaps then you will be able to get a high paying job and finally live the American dream.
The idea that young adults and high schoolers must over-perform at all times can lead to a sense of inadequacy. Thus, a strong need and search for approval, praise, and a sense of self-worth. This can cause high school students and young adults to link their self-worth to their performance and cause extreme anxiety and depression.
3. Anxious and controlling parental practices
With the increase in individual competition and a higher value placed on merit, parents are feeling more pressure than ever to raise high-achieving children. This causes issues for both parents and children. Parents are spending more time focusing on academics with their children instead of on their own hobbies, or on quality family time. This leads to anxious parents who feel their child’s failures are their own failures. These parents may feel a need to pressure their children into performing at their highest. This, in turn, causes children to over-value perfectionism and achievement and under-value themselves. They begin to learn that only through performance, do they have a self.
Through societal expectations regarding our own accomplishments, and expectations we put on ourselves and others, it’s no wonder more adults are pressuring themselves to achieve perfection.
The Link Between Perfectionism and Addiction
The constant struggle to perform at your very best inevitably leads to very real feelings of self-loathing, worthlessness, shame, severe anxiety and depression. And when you look at perfectionism from that angle, it’s no surprise that this can lead to an addiction. The perfectionist who puts so much pressure on himself to perform at his very best cannot cope with the feelings of shame and worthlessness. Instead, he turns to drugs or alcohol to numb those feelings.
Perfectionists frequently have a much more difficult time with recovery. A perfectionist often believes they should be able to achieve any goal on their own, without making a single mistake. This is called magical thinking and can prevent a perfectionist from asking for help with their addiction. A perfectionist may also see recovery as a goal instead of a life-long journey. This mindset causes them to think that a mistake is a failure instead of a learning opportunity. In this way, perfectionism supports addiction, because the perfectionist may think, “I am going to fail anyway, so why try.”
If you are struggling with perfectionism and addiction, there are several things you can do to help yourself.
- Ask for help. Admitting that you need help isn’t easy, but will make all the difference. Your family, friends, and addiction counselors will offer you the best advice, support, and guidance.
- Seek Counseling. Seeking the support of a counselor will help you let go of the habits and ideas that can hold you back.
- Celebrate each success. Recognizing small steps and successes is an important part of both overcoming perfectionism and addiction.
The link between perfectionism and addiction is strong. But with the help of experienced and compassionate counselors, you can overcome perfectionism and addiction. You’ll enjoy living a life of acceptance and self-love. Contact Springboard Recovery today to get started working towards the sober life you deserve.