The Psychological Bulletin (December 2017) published a research carried out by Thomas Curran, from the University of Bath and Andrew Hill, of York St. John University. They examined generational differences in perfectionism among students and concluded that it have increased over the last 27 years. They speculate that this may be because, generally, cultures have become more individualistic, materialistic, and socially antagonistic over this period, with young people now facing more competitive environments, more unrealistic expectations, and more anxious and controlling parents than generations before. According to them, the results are being seen with this latest generation, the Millennials (ages 18-35). This generation feels overburdened with a perfectionist streak unknown to their parents or grandparents. In their paper, researchers define perfectionism as “a combination of excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations.” It isn’t simple perfectionism doing Millennials in but “multidimensional perfectionism,” meaning these young adults feel pressure to measure up to an ever-growing number of criteria. Striving to reach impossible standards increases the risk of anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, various mental health issues and even suicidal ideation.
The findings come from an analysis of data on more than 40,000 American, Canadian and British college students who completed a test that measured three types of perfectionism: the irrational desire to be perfect, perceived pressure from others to be perfect and having unrealistic expectations of others. The study assessed changes in perfectionism over time, from the 1980s to 2016. Several driving forces may help explain the rise in perfectionism among millennials, according to the study authors. Greater competitiveness, a continued focus on individualism, and overbearing and anxious parents may be why. Higher educational demands and the need to find a job that earns a significant salary, also lead to an inflated need for perfection.
Neoliberal meritocracy itself in this view, comes at a cost. “Meritocracy,” Curran said, “places a strong need for young people to strive, perform, and achieve in modern life. Young people are responding by reporting increasingly unrealistic educational and professional expectations for themselves. As a result, perfectionism is rising among millennials.
“Today’s young people are competing with each other in order to meet societal pressures to succeed and they feel that perfectionism is necessary in order to feel safe, socially connected, and of worth.”
Social media also seems to be an important factor when it comes to millennials’ anxiety about body image and social integration, as unrealistic representations push the younger generations to seek unachievable, perfect bodies and increase the individuals’ sense of isolation.
In order to validate this research in the month of December 2018, I carried out a survey on more than 50 Millennials in anonymous form and asked them to fill in a questionnaire. My survey not only confirmed the Curran and Hill’s thesis but also showed that:
- 93% is only satisfied if their work is done perfectly.
- 71% believe that at work there is a lot of expectation from higher roles
- 82% is worried about the prospect of making mistakes
- 43% is worried about what others might think of them
- 36% feel the pressure to meet increasingly high standards
- 14% feel there is competition between millennials
They were asked what is perfectionism in millennials associated with and the prevalent answer expressed their need to show others their maximum potential.
On another hand some of them believe that our generation has lost empathy, and interest in everything that doesn’t regard the selfbeing and as a consequence collaboration between millennials is more complicate. A key for that is the percentage of them that believe there is high competition between them. Taken that the following is also an implication of the frailties of millennials there is who consider responsible the deeply poignant and unsharpened skill of carrying meaningful conversation. The lack of it is leading to many millennials not knowing how to reach out to their peers on the truly emotional spectrum of events that shaped their thoughts. Millennials, a lonely strata of society thus tend to disconnect from the real world and rather stick to (as an armor) the persona which they portray themselves to be on social media.
Asking what they think is possible to do in order to tackle this problem emerged that millennials feel the need to understand what really matters in life, to take part to sensibilization campaigns toward the concept of failure, to receive psychological support and also, to be noticed, is that most of them believe that this doctrine should start from young age.
Millennials nowadays spent most of their time at school or at work and it’s very daunting to know that, for most of them, their prevailing emotions in these situations are stress, anxiety, depression and pressure. Only few of them showed interests and enthusiasm.
On another hand, most of them expressed happiness, curiosity and excitement when they come to sped time with friends or meeting new people.
Based upon the results of my investigation, I decided through my project to answer to the millennials’ request for help.
The project will be based on the development of a centre for the education of emotional intelligence and the cure of mental problems driven by increasing millennial perfectionism.
The notion that perfectionism must be perfect is what initially comes to anyone’s mind. Yet, history shows the weakness of humankind in that no matter how much one has, there is always more we could dream of having. The problem arises as a result of what happened in childhood. What we never had, we want more of and we eventually got what we were dreaming of after a few days that object seemed to lose the luster that it had before we owned it. Pretty soon, something else caught our eye, and the cycle repeated itself.
Schopenhauer felt that this is an accurate description of all existence (“Life swings like a pendulum backward and forward between pain and boredom”). We want to own things and achieve certain goals; in other words, we have a will. So, we work and struggle to own those things and achieve those goals, but, shortly after we succeed, the fun wears off.
However, it isn’t fair to ourselves to say that because we had never gotten all of it, our lives must therefore be a tragedy. Indeed, we should be far kinder to ourselves than that.
Nobody is perfect.
Depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts come to us at our lows and that is fine once in awhile, as everyone up close is more complicated than they seem. We are complex beings of muscle, tissue and fluids not solved with any key like machines. Where depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts start to take a toll and harm us is when we, confused and lonesome, cannot find a solution to understand our thoughts.
I immerged myself inside a community based upon a mobile platform in which people who went or are going through some form of depression, anxiety and suicide thoughts connect each other to express or find support. Through the community, people facing problems understand that they are in fact battling not alone and that some things they go through are despite it’s maddening moments, painfully “normal”.