Professor Rory O'Connor: The dangers of 'social perfectionism'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Whether it is in banking, the law or any number of walks of life, there are high fliers and there are also people who can be referred to as "social perfectionists".

Our research has shown that social perfectionists are people who have extremely high expectations of themselves and what they consider to be success. These standards can be often completely unrealistic and unsustainable. But not only do the social perfectionists put themselves under pressure to achieve these standards, they also think their family and friends expect that achievement of them.

When things go wrong, such as the loss of a job, this can lead to a sense of entrapment. In the context of high achievers, they feel they must maintain the same standards of living and the same levels of success. Whether it is in the workplace or other parts of life, social perfectionists base their self-esteem on these achievements. If the sense of entrapment persists then the most catastrophic way of dealing with it is suicide. To the individual concerned, it seems to them to be a way of solving the problem.

What we don't yet know is what effect the current economic climate will have on the people who find themselves in these circumstances and feel driven to attempt to take their own lives.

Professor Rory O'Connor is head of the suicidal behaviour research group at Stirling University