Unrealistic expectations have mental health costs

Many Australians are being impacted by their unrealistic expectations of themselves; with a leading Australian psychologist suggesting “unhealthy perfectionism” is resulting in mental health issues.

Professor Tracey Wade of the School of Psychology at Flinders University said some people feel they’re worthless if they fall short of their goals, or make mistakes in attempting to achieve them.

These high standards, combined with brutal self criticism, comes at a significant cost, with Professor Wade saying it is often identified in the sufferers of conditions such as depression, anxiety and even eating disorders.

“There is nothing wrong with perfectionism, which is striving for high standards, but when people get caught in a cycle of self-blame and criticism when those ambitions are not met, and really feel that they are worthless because they have failed, it can be extremely damaging. It can also prevent them seeing that mistakes present an opportunity to learn, which is hugely valuable in itself,” Wade said.

According to Wade, a pattern of unhealthy perfectionism can turn people into procrastinators, and can also rob them of enjoyment when they do meet their goals, because they assume they must have set the bar too low

“We have noticed that when we help people to overcome unhealthy perfectionism, it often helps to alleviate other disorders, such as anxiety and depression. It may be that helping to break the unhealthy perfectionism habit is a helpful catch-all treatment.”

Wade suggests people overcome negative perfectionism by focusing on their whole lives, seeing failures in context and by avoiding the temptation to define themselves by a list of achievements.

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