Self-compassion may protect perfectionists from depression

If you are anything like me, you understand that perfectionism is more than a great opportunity to humblebrag during a job interview. You see perfectionism for what it really is: a nagging, self-criticizing inner voice that stands in the way of happiness. However, new research may have found a way to quell it.

If I hadn't had a deadline for this news story, I would probably have spent a whole day tweaking it.

The opportunities are boundless: endless word rearranging, reading sentences out loud more times than I can count, and generally fooling myself into thinking that I'm distinguishing between nuances that are, most likely, indistinguishable to everybody else.

While paying attention to detail, ways to self-improve, and being passionate about what you do often leads to great work, an excessive focus on one's mistakes can do the opposite and interfere with your performance.

Not only can perfectionism lead to endless procrastination (been there), missing deadlines (almost been there every day, sometimes multiple times per day), and being less productive, but research has also shown that this overly critical mindset makes people more prone to depression — and no wonder!

When you have a persecutory inner voice that constantly compares everything you do with an ever-changing standard, it makes sense that your mind would wallow in a soup of frustration, anger, and continuous dissatisfaction with oneself.

But what if there was a way to quieten down the little perfectionist monster inside of our heads? A new study suggests that there might be.

Researchers led by Madeleine Ferrari, from the Australian Catholic University in Sydney, examined the link between perfectionism, depression, and self-compassion in two groups: one comprising adolescents, and one with adults.

They wanted to see whether self-compassion weakened or moderated the already established link between perfectionism and depression. Their findings are published in the journal PLOS One.

The important role of self-compassion

Ferrari and her colleagues asked 541 teenagers and 515 adults to fill in questionnaires that enabled them to self-assess their levels of self-compassion, perfectionism, and depression. On average, the teenagers and adults were aged 14 and 25, respectively.

After applying moderation analysis, the researchers found that "[s]elf-compassion, the practice of self-kindness, consistently reduces the strength of the relationship between maladaptive perfectionism and depression for both adolescents and adults," writes Ferrari.

The study authors add, "The replication of this finding in two samples and across different age-appropriate measures suggests that self-compassion does moderate the link between perfectionism and depression," and they explain:

"Self-compassion interventions may be a useful way to undermine the effects of maladaptive perfectionism, but future experimental or intervention research is needed to fully assess this important possibility."

Self-compassion is a significant psychological asset, as people who are kinder to themselves have been shown to be more resilient in the face of adversity and recover more easily after trauma.

According to the authors, self-compassion is defined as "being open to and moved by one's own suffering, experiencing feelings of caring and kindness toward oneself, taking an understanding, nonjudgmental attitude toward one's inadequacies and failures, and recognizing that one's own experience is part of the common human experience."

But if you don't have that naturally, can you cultivate it? Some studies say yes. I, for one, will get to them as soon as I'm done re-reading this article one more time.