There Are Three Types of Perfectionist. Which One Are You?
If you’re in India, the answer is probably: the fourth.
Answer: the fourth. You’re probably a perfectionist who feels pressure to be the best in everything you do and who worries your family/society will reject you if you don’t meet your personal high standards, which funnily enough look a lot like their expectations.
Close? You’re not alone. This type of perfectionism — termed ‘ideal’ perfectionism — is the most common form of perfectionism among Indians, says Narendar K. Chadha, PhD, the founding dean of the Faculty of Behavioral and Social Sciences at Manav Rachna International University, who has researched perfectionism in India. This unique ‘ideal’ version is a cultural phenomenon that he chalks up to Indian “child rearing practices;” scientific literature, which is primarily informed by research on Western subjects, only recognizes three types of perfectionism.
“The Indian joint family system basically helps develop the perfectionism on the bases of socially perceived notion and demands,” he says. “[The] effect of siblings and community around a person is of high significance to the individual in Indian settings. [Ideal perfectionism] is developed by the expectation from others, which is the demand of the Indian cultural ethos.”
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In other words, you’re a perfectionist not because you, personally, set high goals and standards for yourself, also known as ‘self-oriented’ perfectionism. Or because you worry about not meeting the standards set by others — ‘socially prescribed’ perfectionism. Rather, as an ‘ideal’ perfectionist, the high standards set by others — family, friends, colleagues, the general cultural milieu — have become indistinguishable from the high standards you set for yourself; your personal ideal is society’s ideal, and because of this overlap, there’s no other option than to achieve it.
(Incidentally, you might also be an ‘other-oriented’ perfectionist — someone who holds others to high standards and is highly critical of their failures to meet them.)
But slow your roll, perfectionist; don’t confuse ideal perfectionism with the best way to be a perfectionist. Ideal perfectionism is actually one of the least healthy ways of being a perfectionist, blurring as it does the lines between self and society, personal desires and social expectations. It creates “more mental health problems like conflict, anxiety and depression,” Chadha says. It may also lead to more mistakes — externally focused perfectionism a la the ‘ideal’ kind, in which you’re worried about disappointing others, can actually inhibit performance.
Young people may be more likely to experience the fallout. It’s been reported widely that perfectionism in general is on the rise among youth globally, no less so in India, Chadha says, where the push and pull of expectations to adhere to traditional norms, and exposure to external ideas and different practices, is creating more stress, burnout and confusion.
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Women also may face a disproportionate burden, possibly because they may be more likely to strive for perfection. “Underqualified and underprepared men don’t think twice about leaning in. Overqualified and overprepared, too many women still hold back. Women feel confident only when they are perfect,” write Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance — What Women Should Know, in a recent article for The Atlantic. While the research they cite is Western, it feels applicable in India, where women have even more, and conflicting, expectations heaped upon them.
Self-oriented perfectionism is typically considered the healthiest — the most ‘perfect,’ if you will — version of perfectionism; in the right amounts, it’s linked to high work ethic and achievement. But it’s not easy to change an ingrained personality trait and the motivations behind it, nor an entire society geared toward a certain standard. The trick may be to make your perfectionism work in your favor, and the first step is in considering whether it already does — and recognizing when it doesn’t.
Liesl Goecker is The Swaddle's managing editor.