Self-reinforcing perfectionism

There is a specific kind of belonging-need failure mode which results in perfectionism. To figure out how it develops, I first need to cover group belonging in more detail.

"Belonging" is determined by feelings that a person inspires in other group members: warmth, excitement, fear, or disgust. Feelings provide motivations to action; members of the group will:

  • create stronger connections with popular people (draw them in)
  • benevolently ignore neutral people as harmless but interesting (leave them be)
  • ostracise and exclude people who commited anti-social acts (push them away)

In other words, if you were to express how much a person "belongs" to a group with numbers, you would have to use both positive and negative values, reflecting the direction of movement of the person relative to the group.

People recover from negative levels of belonging by committing acts of restitution. They sacrifice personal gain for the group's good, and thus demonstrate that they "have learned their lesson" and are not a danger to the group anymore.

It is logical to assume that if they continue contributing in that manner, they will earn positive belonging; but they won't. A neutral-status person continually sacrificing themselves gives the impression of trying to appease others, exhibiting fearfulness and powerlessness, which actually lowers their status somewhat (think: doormat, "nice".)

The lack of positive results indicates, for a person with this mindset, that they've given too little, or their efforts have been too flawed to count. They double down, self-sacrifice harder, and their situation gets worse. They feel depressed, frustrated, like they can never win - and it's truly because they can't! Just not for the reason they think.

And this is how one can end up in a self-reinforcing loop of perfectionism.

Categories: self-worth · mental health · social hierarchy