A New Study Explains Why Millennials Are Such Perfectionists

Surprise, surprise, recent research says that millennials are more likely to hold ourselves to unreasonably high standards, and believe that others require perfection of us.

The study from Psychological Bulletin examined responses to the Multidimensional Perfection Scale from over 40 thousand college students who took part in a survey between 1989 and 2016. (Yikes, that’s a lot of research). Basically, they used this test to assess generational changes in three different types of perfectionism.

The results showed an increase in all three categories:

  • 10% in self-directed perfectionism
  • 33% in socially prescribed perfectionism (which is high standards we inflict on ourselves because of the expectations of others)
  • 16% in other-oriented perfectionism (perfectionistic standards that are applied to other people)

There is no doubt that these statistics are not that shocking, I think millennials could have told you that we put more pressure on ourselves than the previous generation did at our age. Researchers are still trying to figure out exactly why we put these pressures on ourselves but think it has to do with the school system. (I could have told you this without having to do years of research).

We do it because of the pressures applied to us in school from a young age. In grade 8 there was pressure to perform in all projects and assignments before high school. In high school, there was the huge pressure to get the grades you needed to be accepted into a post-secondary school. And in post-secondary school, we were pressured do well on tests to prove we have the knowledge to get a job in our field. So when we get that job, we know we need to work hard to keep it.

The schooling system doesn’t actually teach you things to make you learn the material. All they do is want you to get a good mark on a test. So you don’t spend time learning the lesson, you’re focused on getting a good enough grade to get you to the next stage of life.

The study does reveal that there is a serious risk involved with an endless cycle of unreachable expectations and critical self-evaluation. We link our self-worth to achievement based on standards other people apply to us. And the self-inflicting pressures are linked to clinical depression, anorexia, and early death.

We are literally beginning to stress ourselves to death as early as high school.

Researchers also argue that perfectionism is most damaging when the high expectations are being set by someone else. Which is basically what we millennials have been experienced for years in the school system. They call it “socially prescribed perfectionism,” meaning that the person perceives the expectations of others to be excessive and uncontrollable externally, forcing us to apply more pressure and panic internally. This is associated with anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.

The study concludes that the increase is negatively impacting mental health of students and young adults and are partly responsible for the levels of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts have gone up in the last 10 years.

Again, I’m not shocked by this news, mainly because I find myself a victim of this vicious cycle and am well aware of the pressures I feel around me, and recognize it in my friends as well. It’ll be hard to come out of and I don’t think other generations after us will suffer nearly as much mentally as we did because of research like this.

Featured image via Unsplash


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