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"I'm a perfectionist!"

It’s the flaw that many of us have come to proudly declare, but to what extent is perfectionism a strength to be celebrated? And what is the relationship between perfectionism and race? In this blog, I will explore the intersectionality between perfectionism and race, as well as sharing some practical tips for managing perfectionism.


What is perfectionism?

We know that perfectionism is on the rise (Curran & Hill, 2017) - but there is a gap in the evidence-based research on the intersectionality between perfectionism and race. Before we delve into that, it’s important to explore the different types of perfectionism, as coined by Hewitt and Flett (1991). To what extent do you resonate with these questions?

  • Do you set unrealistic goals or standards for yourself or are you overly critical of your perceived flaws/failures? (Self-oriented perfectionism)

  • Do you hold others to unrealistically high standards? Are you overly critical of their perceived flaws/failures? (Other-oriented perfectionism)

  • Do you think that other people hold high standards for you and will view you less highly if you don’t ‘succeed’? (Socially-prescribed perfectionism)

If any of these resonate with you, perfectionism is likely to be influencing your thoughts, beliefs and/or behaviour to some extent. For some, the idea of striving for perfection creates motivation, purpose and resilience in achieving goals and so becomes a positive part of people’s lives. However, this isn’t the case for everyone, as for many people perfectionism plays out as a fear of failure, causing them to take less risks, refuse/avoid help and deal with issues of procrastination and poor time management. It is important to note that perfectionism can change over time and manifest differently depending on the context. It is not exclusive to individuals from one group, perfectionism can thrive in almost any system. Therefore, it’s important we engage in an open dialogue to support friends, family and colleagues, to ensure the struggle for 'perfection' doesn’t impact negatively on an individual’s mental health.


How are race and perfectionism linked?

When exploring the intersectionality between perfectionism and race, let’s start by considering the systems you belong to; family, education, social, cultural, organisational – the list is endless. And if we know that racism infiltrates these systems, then it isn’t a leap to highlight the intersectionality between perfectionism and race. Raymundo (2022) explored the impact of perfectionism on Black students studying STEM at college and identifies this as a form of oppression for Black students – the pressure that is placed on high achieving Black students and the narrow definition of ‘success’, were found to perpetuate systems of white supremacy and anti-blackness... yet we still celebrate perfectionism as the ‘ideal flaw’. Below are a few other ways these systems intersect:

  • The concept of The “concrete ceiling”, (Otaye-Ebede & Shaffakat, 2022), where people from under-represented groups see that they have to work harder, longer and more ‘successfully’ to be considered for job opportunities – creating and fuelling self-oriented perfectionism in order to compete for these positions. (It can also result in feelings such as imposterism, but perhaps that is a blog for another time...!)

  • The knowledge that your leader has different views or expectations of you due to race – read Dear white boss... (Caver & Livers, 2002) for an explanation of how unrealistic demands on employees from under-represented groups can lead to a belief that they are expected to go above and beyond their role, to justify their position.

  • “You’re Asian! You’re supposed to be smart!” (Thompson, Kiang & Witkow, 2016) - The 'model minority stereotype’ (MMS) is one way that socially prescribed perfectionism exists. It is suggested this also works in reverse, when others expect under-represented groups to ‘fail’ and so individuals develop perfectionism to try and change the narrative and/or survive.


How can perfectionism be managed?

This will be different for everyone, depending on an individual's identity, experiences and beliefs. However, here are some starting thoughts to start embracing imperfection:

  • Explore the root of your perfectionism – which type is it? Where did it start? How does it impact your personal and professional life? What biases are at play? Give yourself time and space to reflect on this, either with yourself, a friend or a professional coach.

  • Reframe your thinking – I like the phrase ‘I have perfectionism’, as it helped me to shift the idea that perfectionism is part of who I am, to something of less permanence that I can control.

  • Recognise when it stops feeling like a strength and becomes a burden – this is when you need to seek additional support.

  • Partner - When creating deadlines, defining ‘success’ or developing strategies, work alongside colleagues to identify what is achievable with the timeframe and resources that you have.

  • Practise – notice when you are fearing failure, and lean into it – start with a small risk, or saying ‘yes’ to an offer of help; over time you will grow in confidence that what you offer is enough.

  • Time: accept that dismantling perfectionism is a process that takes time and hard work - you may not see instant improvements but over time, you can find a place where you celebrate your achievements, accept your mistakes as part of the learning journey and enable others to do the same.

The drive to do our best can take us through a whirlwind of experiences and emotions – all of which can impact our identities and wellbeing. It's clear that some evidence-based research is needed in this area, but we all need a reminder sometimes that perfection is an unattainable goal. So here's to some new conversations and new reflections, and a final thought to remember...

You are worthy, you are enough.

Cath x



Caver, K.A. & Livers, A.B. (2002). Dear White Boss. Harvard Business Review. [Online] Accessed: October 2023.

Curran, T. & Hill, A. (2017) Perfectionism is increasing over time: A meta-analysis of birth cohort differences from 1989 - 2016. Psychological Bulletin, 145 (4) pp410-429.

L. Otaye-Ebede & S. Shaffakat, (2023) BME Women: Breaking through the ‘concrete ceiling’ to achieve career success. University of Liverpool.

T.L. Thompson, L. Kiang & M.R. Witkow (2016) “You’re Asian; You’re Supposed to Be Smart”: Adolescents’ Experiences With the Model Minority Stereotype and Longitudinal Links With Identity. Asian American Journal of Psychology, Vol. 7, No. 2, 108 –119.

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