Mental health problems such as burnout, depression, anxiety or eating disorders are common among perfectionists, due to the way they deal emotionally with failure. At a time when studies reveal a significant increase of perfectionism among students, the UC Leuven has conducted research within its specialized psychological counselling (SPC) (now 20 years old) in order to better understand these mechanisms. A programme to help perfectionists was developed.
Researcher at UC Leuven Psychological Science Research Institute, Celine Douillez suggests that although perfectionism may be associated with many benefits in terms of success (including academic), it may also entail significant psychological consequences: depression, anxiety and eating disorders; body dissatisfaction; burnout; suicidal tendency; etc.
The UC Leuven research shows it is not the pursuit of high standards that seems problematic, but rather how perfectionists manage their emotions when confronting failure. Celine Douillez’s research indicates that perfectionists react with more intense negative emotions in situations of failure and resort to more dysfunctional emotional regulation strategies.
Perfectionists have a tendency to “chew” on their past failures and are anxious about the risk of future failures. They also tend to believe that their personal value depends on their ability to meet the requirements they have determined themselves.
“Perfectionists are trapped not by choice, but by necessity because they cannot cope with failure,” UC Leuven researchers conclude. Having understood this mechanism, they developed a programme that helps patients pursue their goals by choice and not by fear, accept failure and be rid of negative ruminations.