Nobody’s Perfect: Self-compassion may mitigate the harmful effects of perfectionism

Nobody’s Perfect: Self-compassion may mitigate the harmful effects of perfectionism

Perfectionistic people often push themselves harder than others to succeed, but can also fall into the trap of being self-critical and overly concerned about making mistakes. When the perfectionist fails, they often experience depression and burnout. How can someone with perfectionist tendencies avoid these pitfalls?

In a study recently published in PLOS ONE, a team of researchers led by Madeleine Ferrari from Australian Catholic University considered whether self-compassion, a kind way of relating to oneself, might help temper the link between perfectionist tendencies and depression.

The researchers administered anonymous questionnaires to assess perfectionism, depression, and self-compassion in 541 adolescents and 515 adults. Analysis of these self-assessments revealed that self-compassion may help uncouple perfectionism and depression. The graph below is a visual depiction of these results for the adult group; the adolescent group showed similar results.

That similar results emerged for both groups of differently aged people suggests that self-compassion may help moderate the link between perfectionism and depression throughout life. The researchers suggest that strategies to improve self-compassion could be a useful way to undermine the effects of perfectionism, but more research is needed to fully assess this possibility.

As lead author Madeleine Ferrari summarizes, “Self-compassion, the practice of self-kindness, consistently reduces the strength of the relationship between maladaptive perfectionism and depression for both adolescents and adults.”

Reference:  Ferrari M, Yap K, Scott N, Einstein DA, Ciarrochi J (2018) Self-compassion moderates the perfectionism and depression link in both adolescence and adulthood. PLoS ONE 13(2): e0192022.

Image Credit: KellyB., Flickr; Ferrari et al (2018)


Tessa is the Journal Media Manager at PLOS. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with degrees in Rhetoric and Music. She can be reached by email at and on Twitter at @tessagregs.

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