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Being a Perfectionist

A relative of genius or action of a damaged mind?


Look at any achiever in the world and chances are you see a mind geared to progress and the elimination of error in their endeavour. Bill Gates, Les Paul, Muhammad Ali they were all perfectionists in their way but the mind-set of the perfectionist is something that has been intensely scrutinised by the university of Michigan and the Psychology department of the university of Nevada, in the US over the last 2 years. We won't try to summarise all the research and results in one article but the darker side of the perfectionist ethos is that it is a result of, frequently, a damaged mind from ones childhood. The Nevada research took subjects (roughly 700) who had all the attributes of the "perfectionist" character (for this they were carefully screened) and looked for patterns on their up-bringing. Frequently a sizeable portion, roughly 53%, had over critical influences at play from a very early age, that's not to say bad parenting, but certainly they all came in for regular criticism from somewhere that led to them driving themselves for perfection but in so doing left areas of their life deeply unsatisfied.

What's arresting is not that this is a simplistic or even obvious answer, its that there are many achievers in this sample that came in for no criticism at all, had solid and stable backgrounds and yet had the key features of the restless mind of a perfectionist as well.
Professor Steve C Hayes, also from Nevada university set about looking at the cultural factors at work and concluded that those minds that were brought up in parts of the world that evolved and changed swiftly were more likely to show a perfectionist sensibility. He comments about being in an environment that evolved quickly clearly bestows a sense that nothing is perfect and needs to be constantly changed, added to or modernised. Doubtless there are other factors and we have not the room to explore them all here but will end on the one sad and unanimous fact of this research from both universities, and that's the perfectionist tends to rank very low on the happiness scale. That is a set of key factors that are looked at to see how happy a person is with their lives and the result, regardless of wealth, achievement and social standing shows that hardily any of these individuals featured anywhere near the general average of most people. This begs the question - what's the point in driving oneself if happiness is not on the menu.


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