Perfectionism Increases Suicide Risk

The following excerpts are from Chapter 5 of the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous and are my favorite part of the book. I relate to them today as much as I did ten years ago when I first got sober:

Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery, and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished the show would be great.

‘What usually happens? The show doesn’t come off very well. He begins to think life doesn’t’ treat him right. He decides to exert himself more. He becomes on the next occasion, still more demanding or gracious, as the case may be. Still the play does not suit him. Admitting he is at fault, he is sure that other people are more to blame. He becomes angry, indignant, self-pitying. What is his basic trouble? Is he not a self-seeker even when trying to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages it well? Is it not evident to the rest of the players that these are the things he wants? And do not his actions make each of them wish to retaliate, snatching all they can get out of the show? Is he not, even in his best moments a producer of confusion rather than harmony?

In other words, perfectionism can stress you the hell out. Even worse, a new study shows that perfectionism can cause more than just stress.

Perfectionism is a bigger risk factor in suicide than we may think, says York University Psychology Professor Gordon Flett, calling for closer attention to its potential destructiveness, adding that clinical guidelines should include perfectionism as a separate factor for suicide risk assessment and intervention.

There is an urgent need for looking at perfectionism with a person-centered approach as an individual and societal risk factor, when formulating clinical guidelines for suicide risk assessment and intervention, as well as public health approaches to suicide prevention,

says Flett.

I am a perfectionist. People around me may find that hard to believe because my life often seems a mess of my own creation. It is. It is because I’m an all or nothing kind of guy. A metaphor for my life would be my home. I love a clean, well-organized abode with everything in proper place. That’s all good in theory, but hard in execution. Once a few little things get out of place I throw my arms up in disgust and let it all go to hell. This only serves to make matters even worse. When things in my life become chaos my brain becomes chaos and a viscous cycle begins. Eventually I reach the point where I can put things back in order, but it takes a tremendous amount of energy and I must be in a balanced state.

In a research article, Flett and his co-authors Professor Paul Hewitt of the University of British Columbia and Professor Marnin Heisel of Western University note that physicians, lawyers and architects, whose occupations emphasize on precision, and also those in leadership roles are at higher risk for perfectionism-related suicide, citing the recent cases of prominent perfectionists who died by suicide

The authors document how being exposed to relentless demands to be perfect, a concept they refer to as socially prescribed perfectionism, is linked consistently with hopelessness and suicide. Other key themes discussed are: how perfectionistic self-presentation and self-concealment can lead to suicides that occur without warning; and how perfectionists often come up with thorough and precise suicide plans.

I’m not a doctor a lawyer or an architect. I am just a lowly writer, yet, I find myself kindred spirits with those who are. My detailed and precise suicide plan is what landed me in the psych ward for ten days.

Flett added,

We summarize data showing consistent links between perfectionism and hopelessness and discuss the need for an individualized approach that recognizes the heightened risk for perfectionists. They also tend to experience hopelessness, psychological pain, life stress, overgeneralization, and a form of emotional perfectionism that restricts the willingness to disclose suicidal urges and intentions.

So what’s the lesson in all of this? Be easier on myself. Just because everything isn’t going perfectly doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. All is not lost. How do I overcome perfectionism? Well, I’m not sure, but a quick search on Google looks like a good place to start. I also know the next topic to bring up on my next therapist appointment.

Source: York University

9 comments on Perfectionism Increases Suicide Risk

  1. Overcoming perfectionism is HUGE. I love that God forgives, and use that to remind myself to forgive myself for my humanity. I am not God. I am not perfect. I am broken, and that is okay. I am broken, forgiven, and loved. I find theological concepts useful in my thinking about perfectionism and forgiveness, but the same is true using purely secular humanist language.

    1. It is hard to overcome perfectionism. I believe it’s a process that takes time and cannot be turned off with switch.

      1. Without a doubt. I guess I still strive to be perfect, perfectly imperfect. 😉 Yes, overcoming it is a process. Something I’ve been working on since I started therapy at 18, that would be 33 years so far.

  2. interesting. no wonder i have been suicidal off and on for so long. i was made into a perfectionist as soon as i could walk. and i never feel good about myself unless everything is always done all the time.

  3. Great post, Bradley. It explains a lot about why I am the way I am! I fear real chaos if I try to change too much- I like things being perfect . But I’m so dang tired! 🙂

  4. Your topic for today struck a chord with me. It explains why suicide is hovering above my head when there is chaos all around me and I am very depressed. I need order like my body needs water. I thrive on being a perfectionist When chaos is beyond my control I have to be careful to not let it get the best of me because I feel like a failure. I have to work especially hard to try to avoid depression. I’ve been suicidal a few times in my life and my home was upside down. Thanks for your post. You reminded me about how I can over stretch myself due to my perfectionism.

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