If you’re the parent of a troubled or at-risk teen, perhaps you’re laughing at the idea that perfectionism can be dangerous. Maybe you even wish your teen would try to be a tad closer to perfect! While perfectionism may not lead to in-your-face rebellious behaviors, it can be just as dangerous for the teen who succumbs to its deceptive lures.
Perhaps more common among those raised in conservative religious homes and churches, perfectionistic young people are often presented as the ideal, trophy kids. These are the over-achievers, the eager-to-please, rule-keeping “good kids” we all hope our parenting “produces.” But it’s not necessarily healthy — or godly. The dangers of perfectionism are true dangers, both physically and spiritually.
While rebellious teens resist pressure to conform and, instead, run headlong in the direction opposite which their authorities desire, perfectionistic young people strive to fulfill expectations placed on them. They even intensify the standards and put extra pressure on themselves.
Sometimes a perfectionistic person may manifest these tendencies in some areas, but not others. (For instance, in his acclaimed book about birth order, Dr. Kevin Leman describes the “firstborn perfectionist with a messy desk.”) Perhaps your teen is perfectionistic about his Bible reading, appearance, and academic pursuits, while his household chores go undone.
Basically, there’s an area (or even several areas) where something has to give, because the pressure the perfectionistic teen puts on himself to meet external or internal standards in other areas is simply overwhelming. Galatians 6:1 uses the phrase “overtaken in a fault,” and perfectionists can certainly be overtaken by their feeling the need to meet unrealistic standards or please everyone. Even with exceptional areas, though, the pressure can lead to workaholic or compulsive behaviors, which can cause all kinds of emotional and physical problems.
Including areas of exception, perfectionists tend to be harder on themselves than others ever are. Because of their self-criticism, criticisms from others can be incredibly devastating. Even without the added pressure from others, though, many perfectionists are constantly frustrated in their efforts to achieve their own high standards.
Sometimes that frustration results in working harder and longer, eliminating much-needed sleep and relaxation, as well as any activity they enjoy. Over the long term, this kind of constant pushing and never resting overloads the body and the mind, which can cause uncontrollable emotional breakdowns. Our bodies simply weren’t designed to continually run at a break-neck pace.
For some perfectionists, heightened standards become too unreasonable to attain, so the goals or rules can appear all-but abandoned. Often, such apparent low-key behavior is accompanied by constant frustration and self-loathing because of the inability to keep up with expectations. Such anger-turned-inward often results in anxiety and can be seen in behaviors such as self-injury or emotional lows of depression.
Continue reading with Part 2.