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Ms. Imperfect

Jessica Rohlfing Pryor, clinical assistant professor of psychology and head of the Perfectly Imperfect Lab at Northwestern, on why good enough is sometimes best

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Ms. Imperfect

Zen on the Cheap …

Jessica Rohlfing Pryor, clinical assistant professor of psychology and head of the Perfectly Imperfect Lab at Northwestern, on why good enough is sometimes best

Illustration by Jason Schneider

You specialize in maladaptive perfectionism. What is that?

It’s a person’s unhealthy striving toward not just high goals, but excessively high or impossible goals, with very strong negative reactions if they fail to meet those goals exactingly.

What happens then?

If they don’t get the promotion or don’t get into a particular university, they may process it as evidence that they have significant flaws. They collect these examples — I call this the archive. The larger that archive grows, the more it impacts their self-worth and self-confidence.

Is this on the rise?

A study from my colleagues at the University of Bath found unequivocally that perfectionism has a higher prevalence in younger generations. So in that way, yes, it is on the rise.

Where does this tendency come from?

It may be embedded in the way we shaped our present society. We advertise not only perfectionism but the costs of falling short. These messages are even a part of the goals well-intentioned parents set for their child: “You’ve got this” or “You’ll do fine; you’ve aced the last two tests.” That messaging is absent of reminders that mistakes are normal.

If someone is hearing a little bit of themselves in this, what can they do?

Consider working with a mental health professional. Otherwise, do a self-check about whether you have set impossible standards and, if so, set priorities. If it’s important to be a very good parent, do you also need to be a really good parallel parker?

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