Perfectionism and Depression

Written by: Dr Joseph Kekulawala
(Psychiatrist)
Last updated date : March 30, 2022

Perfectionism and depression go hand-in-hand. There is a significant overlap between perfectionism, anxiety and depression, OCD and certain eating disorders. Unlike the diseases just mentioned, perfectionism is a personality trait. This article will look at why perfectionism means you are more likely to have a mental disorder. We will be explicitly honing into perfectionism and depression here.

Whilst perfectionism is a personality trait, depression, on the other hand, is considered to be a mental illness. Mental health experts, psychiatrists and psychologists have specific diagnostic criteria for diagnosing someone with depression.

Mental health experts and researchers state that about 20% of us have features keeping with perfectionism. However, for most, perfectionism is overall a positive thing. For some, however, perfectionism is driven by low self-esteem or low self-worth. When perfectionism is driven by low self-esteem, wanting to impress others, it can be viewed as maladaptive or unhealthy.

Chapter 1:
How Perfectionism Can Trigger Depression

With unhealthy perfectionism, there is underlying low self-esteem and critical self-doubt. These alone are factors that can contribute to depression. When a perfectionist fails to achieve their goals or is stuck unable to complete a task to their expectations, there is a deep sense of shame, worry and failure. This, in turn, can trigger sadness, fear about others opinions and a wish to hide.

All of these thoughts, behaviours and feelings can contribute to depression.

A perfectionist can alternate between feeling stuck and depressed versus active and wanting to achieve. This almost yo-yo effect, swinging between the two extremes, can lead to frustration, disappointment and stress in relationships.

Perfectionism, anxiety and depression, are interlinked, where one can contribute or worse than the other. If you are a perfectionist, I know someone who is a perfectionist. Have you noticed how perfectionist take tendencies can impact mood and feelings?

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Chapter 2:
Being a Perfectionist Is Tough

Especially with maladaptive perfectionism, where the focus is on the end goal, perfectionism quickly leads to burnout and exhaustion. Perfectionists are unable to greatly enjoy the process or journey. They struggle to celebrate small wins. In addition, perfectionists are poor at taking time off, relaxing or spending long periods with friends and family.

We all need to rest, have downtime and enjoy ourselves. Humans are social creatures. We are certainly not machines. Sometimes maladaptive perfectionism means the person works themselves to exhaustion and burnout, leading to depression.

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Chapter 3:
Perfectionism and Depression, Social Factors

With unhealthy perfectionism, often, a person wants to impress others. They want to be noticed, leave a good impression, win the other person over. A perfectionist can end up working extra hard to impress others. However, this can be a trap when the other party does not acknowledge or appreciate the efforts made. This can leave the perfectionist feeling rejected and with a bitter taste in their mouth.

Perfectionism, anxiety and depression are also linked by perfectionist preferring their own company and wanting to work. Maladaptive perfectionism means missed opportunities to socialise, make friends, form partnerships and work together. Because a perfectionist misses out in the social realm, it can make life, in our increasingly connected world, more complex.

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Chapter 4:
Perfectionism and Depression Thought Patterns

Often very dark and self-critical thoughts drive perfectionism. “I’m not good enough”, “nobody cares” are examples of negative call beliefs which can push someone to unhealthy extremes of wanting to achieve. In some ways, this situation is similar to depression.

Depression is characterised by negative thinking, also called cognitive distortions. When someone is depressed, the thinking gets quite gloomy or pessimistic. They feel hopeless, helpless and stuck.

As you can notice, both depression and perfectionism are associated with a certain type of negative thinking.

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Chapter 5:
Perfectionism and Depression, Treatment

Depression, as we have mentioned, is a mental illness. There is a growing evidence base, treatment guidelines for managing depression. Talking therapy or medication, sometimes in combination, are used to treat someone with depression. Perfectionism, on the other hand, is different. Perfectionism is best addressed using psychological therapies. We have an article here at a second line on treatment for perfectionism. You can find it using the search bar at the top of this page. If you think you have perfectionism and depression, you must speak to a health professional soon. If you are unsure, speak to someone that you trust and who knows you well. There are effective treatments for depression. In fact, you might find that as your depression is treated that your perfectionistic tendencies reduce. Here at Epsychonline, we have a six-week course on perfectionism. If you visit our courses page, you will be able to find it there along with our other courses. We hope you have found this article on perfectionism and depression helpful. Please send us any feedback you have.