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  • paulinethepsychologist

How Society Encourages & Reinforces Perfectionism

Updated: Jul 6, 2021

Find out how society and technology give us the message that we aren't enough and how to use this information to begin combating the impact.

Do you exhibit the characteristics of a relational perfectionist? Find out by reading my first blog here and then come back to read about how our society is fueling this.

I strongly believe that our society encourages and supports and reinforces perfectionism. Everywhere we look, we are bombarded with images of ways that we can (read should) have it all and be it all.

Our work should be our passion and we should be really successful … and rich.

We should be in amazing romantic relationships where we never fight and have hot steamy sex on the daily or we should be single and traveling the world.

We should be raising socially-conscious, organic-fed, academically and emotionally intelligent children who are the future.

We should have fit bodies (workout apps, massages, juice cleanses) and sound minds (mindfulness apps and journaling) and gorgeous homes (with plants we can keep alive) and solid friendships (who throw us surprise parties and babysit our kids without being asked) and on-trend outfits (without trying too hard, of course) and follow keto or paleo or whole 30 and be funny and kind.

I could keep going on and on.

And with living in the tech world we live in, we can be obsessed with outcomes and facts and figures and numbers.

We track our calories and steps and our sleep and our kids and our screen usage. We are constantly being sold the next gadget to track the next thing we should be doing working on.

We are constantly being given data with the implicit whispering of the expectations to be doing better and being better than we are now.

We also have more options than ever before – from dinner eats to dinner dates.

Data and feedback and choices are all good things though so more is better no? Interestingly, in the face of all these options, we are responding more and more with a sense of fear of making the wrong decision as well as disappointment at the choices we have made (check out Barry Schwartz’s TedTalk on the paradox of choice).

We are also reinforced for being perfectionistic.

Our individualistic, consumer-driven, competitive Western world tells us that it is amazing to be number one and irrelevant to be number two. Numbers three through ...? Invisible! And not to mention, we need to buy things to help us get there.

Being on top is something we strive for – whether it’s the top sales person on our team or the top student (hello valedictorian). There is a zero-sum attitude, so me winning means you losing. Since “winning” is “good” and “losing” is “bad,” we are encouraged to “be the best” and come out victorious.

Schools give students grades – with an “A” equating to a job well done, regardless of whether the student cheated. The “C” student who truly learned something internally but had too much on their plate to get all their assignments done on time is not rewarded. The outside is visible and that’s what is rewarded – even though the inside is what matters the most (organizational psychologists know all about this intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation).

And where is this most prevalent? Social media of course. We are given filters and apps that make our pictures “perfect” as we strive to portray the most “perfect” lives with the most perfect, witty little captions. This happens in dating apps too – where the most perfect pictures and profiles attract the most perfect matches.


Why is it important to recognize the influence of our society on something that goes on inside our hearts and minds?

Because being aware of the social influences helps us be gentle with ourselves. Of course, it’s easy to absorb this stuff – it’s coming at us from everywhere. Just reading this you’ve probably been dinged and pinged by a smart device.

Knowing that we are being pushed in on helps us counteract those messages and find some balance. If we don’t know we are being influenced, it’s like being pulled by a rip current. We won’t even realize how far we’ve been dragged from where we started and most importantly, where we wanted to end up!

Though it isn’t our fault, it is our responsibility. 

Let’s say you have identified yourself as a relational perfectionist and you know realize the role that social influences have.

You may be eager for me to now spell out “FIVE USEFUL TIPS FOR BANISHING YOUR PERFECTIONISM AND BEING RID OF SOCIAL INFLUENCES ONCE AND FOR ALL” and maybe you want the tag line to read “In five minutes or less!” but it just doesn’t work that way. That’s a desire for perfection, a quick fix, and societal norms mash-up.

In my next blog post, I will talk about some of the ways that you can begin noticing perfectionism and some tools for tuning into what is driving it, and then addressing the source.

But for today, just sit with this. Let it marinate – even if it’s uncomfortable.

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