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The Danger of Perfectionism in Girls: How Parents Can Help Their Daughters Let Go of the Need to Be Perfect

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You’ve likely heard it many times—someone describes themselves as a perfectionist in an interview or while reviewing their work. This often refers to nitpicking details, striving for improvement, or procrastinating out of fear of failure. Indeed, perfectionism is often the root cause of these behaviors.

The American Psychological Association defines perfectionism as the tendency to demand an extremely high or flawless level of performance from oneself or others, far exceeding what is necessary. This focus on accomplishments and constant striving for improvement can lead to stress and dissatisfaction.

Understanding Perfectionism

Perfectionism is a personality trait marked by excessively high personal standards and harsh self-criticism. Research shows that it is more prevalent in teenage girls than boys, with long-term effects that can hinder creativity, performance, and overall well-being.

A global study by Lego found that even girls as young as five exhibit perfectionistic traits, hampering their creativity. While a spirit of excellence can motivate resilience and the ability to tackle challenges, perfectionism can turn into an endless and unattainable pursuit, leading to negative health outcomes like eating disorders, anxiety, and even premature death.

Signs of Perfectionism

Common indicators of perfectionism include:

  • Self-criticism
  • Holding oneself to unrealistic standards
  • Basing self-worth on achievements
  • Constant comparison with others
  • Excessive checking and overthinking
  • Procrastination
  • Difficulty relaxing or “letting go”
  • Persistent feelings of “not good enough”
  • An all-or-nothing mindset

Interestingly, procrastination often accompanies perfectionism, as the fear of not achieving perfection can lead to avoidance of tasks altogether. This combination can create roadblocks that hinder success and progress, and the stress it generates can lead to burnout.

The Impact on Girls

Girls, in particular, tend to internalize perfectionistic standards, creating significant stress and pressure. They may avoid activities they fear they cannot perfect, limiting their experiences and growth. Cultural factors also play a role, with Asian cultures often imposing higher perfectionistic expectations compared to Western cultures.

A 2021 study found that perfectionism affects girls more during adolescence, with social pressures from family and friends being a significant influence. These gender stereotypes and societal expectations can narrow their focus and diminish creativity, experimentation, and enjoyment.

Breaking the Cycle of Perfectionism

To help girls break free from perfectionism, parents can take several steps:

  1. Shift the Focus: Encourage enjoying the process rather than fixating on the outcome. Emphasize competence over perfection.
  2. Understand Stress Triggers: Recognize what stresses your child and avoid over-scheduling. Ensure they have ample time to rest and disconnect.
  3. Use Positive Language: Affirmative and kind words can help girls internalize positive messages. Let them know they are loved unconditionally and do not need to be perfect.
  4. Set Realistic Goals: Help them break large goals into smaller, manageable steps and set realistic expectations.
  5. Practice Self-Compassion: Encourage self-compassion and understanding when things don’t go as planned.
  6. Foster a Growth Mindset: Focus on the learning process rather than just the final outcome.
  7. Embrace Imperfection: Highlight the importance of consistent effort over perfect results.
  8. Seek Support: Encourage seeking help when anxiety becomes overwhelming.
  9. Prioritize Self-Care: Ensure they prioritize self-care to manage stress effectively.

Conclusion

Letting go of perfectionism can liberate young girls, allowing them to be creative and free from societal pressures. Dr. Sng Khai Imm, a clinical psychologist, emphasizes that no one needs to be perfect, and accepting oneself is crucial. By fostering a supportive environment and encouraging a balanced perspective, parents can help their daughters develop a healthier, more realistic approach to life and their achievements.