Psychiatrist warns of the dangers of perfectionism for Stress Awareness Month
Dr Jez Rowland, Deputy Chief Medical Officer at Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, is using Stress Awareness Month to warn people of the dangers of perfectionism.
Dr Rowland, a consultant psychiatrist, is well aware of the obsession with perfection within the healthcare industry. But perfectionism and an unhealthy obsession with it can surface anywhere.
The irony of course is that perfection is impossible to achieve. Research clearly demonstrates that perfectionism is detrimental. The obsession to achieve the perfect outcome, score or inspection result is driving already stressed and overstretched workforces and students towards burnout and, in some cases, tragic decisions.
Dr Rowland says: “Many of us have been trained to achieve very highly, aim for perfect scores and to never be wrong. We often demand perfection of ourselves and expect it from each other, but this becomes impossible to deliver in the real world and leads to feelings of shame when we don’t achieve it. What that can do is stop us from taking positive risks and make us more likely to blame each other and hide mistakes.”
Tackling this ingrained thinking can be difficult. However, there are simple things anyone can do if they think they are focussing too much on perfection.
- Set reasonable and realistic goals
- Focus on the positives of what you have achieved
- Learn to add ‘yet’ to your thinking e.g. “I don’t think I can do that. Yet.”
- Give ourselves permission to make mistakes and use them as a springboard to learn
- Find colleagues or friends we trust so that we can have open conversations when we inevitably fail to achieve perfection, or our idea of it, and address these.
Dr Rowland added: “Instead of perfectionism, we must foster a change in focus towards excellence and learning. Pursuing excellence promotes an urge for success, persistence, and a commitment to doing something exceptionally well.”