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Perfectionism is not typically included when discussing mental health issues.  However, it warrants a place as a topic of concern within the prestigious and academically-driven culture of Swarthmore College.  Some may view perfectionism as a virtue, and we certainly want to encourage students to strive to do the best they can and achieve success.  Yet perfectionism can be debilitating for students who experience chronic pressure and never feel “good enough.”


High expectations of self and others

  • Rarely satisfied with quality of work
  • Sense that they can never be “good enough”
  • Critical of self and others when high standards are not met
  • Unforgiving of mistakes
  • Reworks papers and projects over and over
  • Difficulty accepting advice or assistance from others; likes to be in control
  • Doesn’t delegate, and reworks tasks that others have completed
  • Afraid of failure and rejection
  • Constantly working on self-improvement
  • Difficulty relaxing
  • Frequently measures self against others
  • Sense of self-worth is tied to performance
  • Rigid outlook


  • Talk to the student about your specific concerns and invite them to respond
  • Give them space to talk and provide support
  • Affirm that it’s okay to make mistakes and being imperfect is part of being human
  • Affirm that they are valued for many things beyond their work performance
  • Encourage them to set realistic goals and break them down into manageable steps
  • Role model acceptance and flexibility
  • Measure “success” by life satisfaction and meaningful engagement rather than performance
  • Don’t minimize what they are going through
  • Make observations in the moment, e.g. “It seems like you’re being really hard on yourself.”
  • Encourage them to seek support


  • CAPS (x8059)

  • CAPS On Call (24/365) (610-328-7768)

  • Interfaith Center (x8328)