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Mythical 'perflection'

Article-Mythical 'perflection'

Key iconKey Points

  • Perfection is an adaptation to not being okay with oneself, says one expert
  • The common traits of perfectionism include setting out-of-reach goals, obsessing to improve performance, never feeling satisfied, among others
  • A list of interventions to disable perfectionism is provided

Dr. Pfifferling
Yes, there is a typo in the headline of this article. To most, it is a mistake; to a perfectionist, it is unforgivable — a reason to stop reading Cosmetic Surgery Times . John-Henry Pfifferling, Ph.D., director, Center for Professional Well-Being, Durham, N.C., says that this degree of perfectionism often goes hand-in-hand with cosmetic surgeons.

While some might look at the label "perfectionist" with envy, Dr. Pfifferling sees its dark side — one in which surgeons may burn out, become physically sick, ruminate incessantly, suffer from stress disorders and, yes, sometimes take their own lives.

"... One of the most common vulnerabilities of any surgeon is the issue of perfectionism," he says. "It is a vulnerable, fragile, emotionally-loaded topic."

Dr. Pfifferling, who counsels and coaches physicians on perfectionism and other psychological issues, says perfectionism is more than an annoyance or minor character flaw; it is an adaptation to not being okay with oneself.

FUELING THE FIRE Doctors in all kinds of specialties suffer from disabling perfectionism. While there is no solid scientific evidence to support his hypothesis, Dr. Pfifferling, who spoke to a packed house of cosmetic surgeons on the topic of perfectionism at the recent American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery annual meeting in Washington, D.C., says that cosmetic surgeons are among the most likely in medicine to harbor its common traits, which include setting out-of-reach goals for the sake of competitiveness; obsessing to improve performance — even when overcommitted; never feeling satisfied; and presenting an aloof, arrogant or isolated demeanor, to name a few. Especially in cosmetic surgery, expectations fuel perfectionism's fire.

"Patients want [perfection]; society wants it; medical malpractice attorneys want it; the public wants it; media wants it. Everybody wants perfection, which, of course, cannot be delivered," Dr. Pfifferling says.

Are you a perfectionist?
Cosmetic surgeons are dealing with people's physical identification of themselves. Patients often come to cosmetic surgeons voluntarily. Yet, the ideal cosmetic result is relative and often hinges on perception.

DELIVERING THE UNDELIVERABLE Take away the unhealthy, disabling edge and perfectionism might be viewed as a positive. After all, these surgeons focus all their energy into their work and set their self-worth on results.

"If I am the patient, I want someone who is totally committed in every pore of their body to doing the best for me. Of course, we define [what 'the best for me' is] very differently," Dr. Pfifferling notes. "The cost to the doctor is irrelevant to the patient. They want the doctor to always be 'on,' never to sleep, never to rest, always to be focused on the absolute cutting-edge 'superb-ness.'"

But the costs of delivering what is essentially a lie (no one is perfect, after all) are high.

"These people can never rest. They are always looking over their shoulders and comparing themselves to some other set, some person, some data or some clinical outcome. They are hard on themselves and on their staffs. They are prone to paranoia and distress. And, of course, anyone who is that hypercritical and distressful is going to be a loner. They are not going to have a close set of confidants who are honest and caring and reassuring and comforting, because they are hard to deal with," Dr. Pfifferling explains.

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