Chronic pain and depression have been found to have a “reciprocal relationship”. Pain can increase depression and depression is one of the causes of pain. If you get better control over one, you will have better control over the other. Today I want to focus on managing depression. Lately, I have been reading about the role of perfectionism in depression. Let's talk about that.
- High standards for yourself – you expect yourself to perform better than everyone else; mistakes or “average” performance are unacceptable to you
- High standards for others – you demand high performance from others, just as you do for yourself; other people may disappoint you if they don't share your high standards and you may find yourself getting angry at people who are not living up to your high ideals
- A belief that others demand perfection from you – you often assume that other people hold you to the same high standards that you hold yourself; you may experience a lot of anxiety and worry over whether you have disappointed others in the past or may do so in the future
Dr. Flett and his team found that perfectionism was associated with increased depression. This link was even stronger among people who had the tendency to “silence themselves”. According to Dr. Flett, self-silencing individuals:
keep their distress to themselves in an attempt to maintain or improve interpersonal relationships. Their distress often takes the form of unexpressed anger… People high in self-silencing conceal their true feelings out
of desires to maintain relationships and obtain the approval of significant others.
The combination of perfectionism and self-silencing sets the stage for helplessness and depression. It is impossible to be perfect. It is impossible to make other people be perfect. Silencing yourself is frustrating – the fear of disappointing or not mattering to others and anger at others become increasingly difficult to contain. You may become depressed and your pain may get worse.
Are You a Perfectionistic Self-Silencer?
Pain makes living life more difficult. Ask yourself if you are making chronic pain management even more difficult by maintaining high standards that are impossible to reach. Try to make an honest assessment of your standards. Are you really being fair to yourself and others in what you expect? What would happen if you loosened up a bit?
If you are a self-silencer, it can be tricky to modify this tendency. I do not suggest that you suddenly let everyone know just how disappointed and angry you are with them for not living up to your high standards. You may need to take a careful look at your perfectionism first. Once you begin to develop realistic and fair standards for yourself and others, you will have less to silence.
About the Author. Dr. Linda Ruehlman is a social/health psychologist and researcher, co-founder of Goalistics, and director of the Chronic Pain Management Program, an interactive site that helps people with chronic pain to manage their pain and live richer, more effective lives as well as Think Clearly about Depression, a self-management program for depression.
DISCLAIMER: This blog is provided as an educational and informational resource only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional psychological or medical advice.