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Home » Our Dangerous Obsession With Perfectionism Is Getting Worse: Thomas Curran (Transcript)

Our Dangerous Obsession With Perfectionism Is Getting Worse: Thomas Curran (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of Thomas Curran’s talk titled “Our Dangerous Obsession With Perfectionism Is Getting Worse” at TED conference.

Listen to the audio version here:


The Paradox of Perfectionism

‘I’m a bit of a perfectionist.’ Now, how many times have you heard that one? Over drinks, maybe, with friends, or perhaps with family at Thanksgiving. It’s everyone’s favorite flaw, it’s that now quite common response to the difficult, final question at job interviews: “My biggest weakness? That’s my perfectionism.”

You see, for something that supposedly holds us back, it’s quite remarkable how many of us are quite happy to hold our hands up and say we’re perfectionists. But there’s an interesting and serious point because our begrudging admiration for perfection is so pervasive that we never really stop to question that concept in its own terms.

What does it say about us and our society that there is a kind of celebration in perfection? We tend to hold perfectionism up as an insignia of worth. The emblem of the successful. Yet, in my time studying perfectionism, I’ve seen limited evidence that perfectionists are more successful. Quite the contrary — they feel discontented and dissatisfied amid a lingering sense that they’re never quite perfect enough.

The Hidden Costs of Perfectionism

We know from clinician case reports that perfectionism conceals a host of psychological difficulties, including things like depression, anxiety, anorexia, bulimia, and even suicide ideation. And what’s more worrying is that over the last 25 years, we have seen perfectionism rise at an alarming rate. And at the same time, we have seen more mental illness among young people than ever before.

Rates of suicide in the US alone increased by 25 percent across the last two decades. And we’re beginning to see similar trends emerge across Canada, and in my home country, the United Kingdom.

Now, our research is suggesting that perfectionism is rising as society is changing. And a changed society reflects a changed sense of personal identity and, with it, differences in the way in which young people interact with each other and the world around them. And there are some unique characteristics about our preeminent, market-based society that include things like unrestricted choice and personal freedom, and these are characteristics that we feel are contributing to almost epidemic levels of this problem.

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