Science & Technology

Practicing self-compassion relieves effects of perfectionism

Perfectionists can overcome burnout and depression by practicing self-compassion, according to a study published in the journal “PLOS One.”

Some individuals are constantly striving for perfection. The tendency to succeed in every aspect of life is often triggered by the competitive environments people live in. However, this tendency is accompanied by self-criticism. Setting extremely high standards for oneself leads to burnout and depression.

One method that can prevent these outcomes is self-compassion, which is defined in the study as, “being open to and moved by one’s own suffering, experiencing feelings of caring and kindness toward oneself, taking an understanding, nonjudgmental attitude toward one’s inadequacies and failures, and recognizing that one’s own experience is part of the common human experience.”

According to the study, titled “Self-compassion moderates the perfectionism and depression link in both adolescence and adulthood,” one of the reasons why perfectionism needs to be investigated is due to the toll it takes on mental health and how it causes depression.

Perfectionists strive to achieve the best possible results and often push themselves harder than others to achieve their goals. They have a particular way of approaching their work and create extremely high standards for themselves. As a result, they become apprehensive about making mistakes. Depression is a significant consequence of perfectionism because those who wish to refine themselves and their work are the ones susceptible to pushing themselves too hard. Burnout leads to depression because feelings of being “not good enough” are more prevalent in perfectionists.

While individuals who strive to achieve ambitious goals are seen as perfectionists, this is not always a negative characteristic to have. Perfectionists are motivated, determined and persistent. They score high grades on assignments and have excellent organization skills. However, the study notes that perfectionism is unhealthy when it manifests itself in the form of a maladaptive behavior known as self-criticism. According to an article in The Jordan Times titled “Self-compassion may protect perfectionists from getting depressed,” self-criticism is defined as the fear of making mistakes and worrying about negative evaluations by others.

Self-compassion is about individuals accepting all of the flaws that they have from time to time and loving themselves anyway. It is about people being kind to themselves, despite not always reaching their own ambitious standards and goals.

A study was conducted by Madeleine Ferrari, a clinical psychologist at Australian Catholic University in Strathfield, New South Wales, to test the relationship between levels of self-compassion and depression in 1,000 teens and young adults. The method used to test this was a questionnaire in which the individuals self-assessed their levels of perfectionism, depression and self-compassion.

These questionnaires were anonymous and voluntary. The first study sample consisted of 541 adolescents from grades seven to 10. These participants were all students from five private Australian high schools. The remaining 515 participants for the second study sample were adults aged 18 to 72 years old. Both study groups had more female participants than male participants.

Participants completed the Child and Adolescent Perfectionism Scale, a 22-item questionnaire examining an individual’s high standards; the Short Mood and Feelings Questionnaire, a 13-item scale examining low self-esteem and the Self-Compassion Scale-Short Form, a 12-item questionnaire examining self-kindness and mindfulness.

The results of this study, conducted through questionnaires, confirmed Ferrari’s hypothesis that those who have perfectionistic tendencies that include maladaptive behaviors, such as self-criticism, were more likely to have depressive symptoms. On the other hand, individuals with higher levels of self-compassion and kindness toward themselves were less likely to have depressive symptoms.

A student who wished to remain anonymous said, “I think this study is very important to consider. Many students and people in general are so hard on themselves, so knowing that something as simple as self-compassion can help in fighting our constant self-criticism is reassuring.”

Another student who also wished to remain anonymous said, “This study was not very surprising since the harsher we are with ourselves, the sadder we will be. If we are kind to others, why not be kind to ourselves as well?”

The takeaway is that one should try to be kind and compassionate with themselves, despite not always reaching one’s goals. While one may not always succeed, it is important to not let burnout happen, as this increases the risk of depression.

This study is especially relevant to Baruch College students at this point of the semester, as midterm exams may trigger extended feelings of stress. To overcome the pressure, students should be kind and compassionate to themselves.

March 19, 2018

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Ria Mehandru


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