Many of you will be interested in our new paper showing that self-compassion can protect one from the downsides of maladaptive perfectionism.
The paper is led by Madeleine Ferrari (watch this space for more cool work from her).
A core idea of the paper is that you can’t really stop people from having perfectionistic thoughts, especially in high-performance contexts like school, work, and sport. For example, in professional sport, everyone surrounding an athlete is pushing that athlete to perform just a little better, get just a little stronger, jump a little higher, and run a little faster. You can’t really go in and say to the athletes, “Maybe you should just relax your standards and enjoy life a bit more.” I mean, you could say that, but you would not keep your job very long.
Most of us are probably striving for an impossible standard, never feeling like we are ever good enough.
Maddie’s paper replicates the well-established finding that maladaptive perfectionism is linked to depression. But there is an important qualification. The link is eliminated for those who are high in self-compassion (she showed the effect in both adolescents and adults).
I think this is important because it shows there is a way to strive for perfectionism without beating yourself up when you inevitably fail.
I suspect there is no need to cognitively restructure perfectionistic thoughts if you can increase self-compassion. We need more data on this issue, But early evidence from our suggests that cognitive restructuring does not work with youth.
For those who don’t want to read the scientific article, you might be interested in a more news-focused publication
Professor Joseph Ciarrochi
Institute for Positive Psychology & Education
Australian Catholic University