The Hidden Health Dangers of Perfectionism and People-Pleasing
Insights from Dr. Gabor Maté to Help Us Be Healthier
Dr. Gabor Maté, renowned speaker, author, and physician, brings an empathetic and holistic approach to understanding human behavior and its profound impact on health. His work, particularly evident in his acclaimed book, “When the Body Says No,” delves into the deep-seated connections between emotional repression, chronic stress, and the manifestation of physical illnesses.
This article focuses on one of the many dimensions of his work — how perfectionists, do-gooders, and people-pleasers become prone to sickness. After reading the work of Dr. Mate, I’m blown away by how few medical professionals truly understand the dynamics between the mind and body.
Dr. Maté believes that perfectionism, the urge to be a do-gooder, and people-pleasing tendencies are not mere personality traits but coping mechanisms that individuals develop in response to their environments. However, these mechanisms can morph into chronic stressors, adversely affecting one’s health.
For perfectionists, the fear of making mistakes and the relentless pursuit of flawlessness becomes a chronic stressor. Per Dr. Maté, “Emotional stress is a major cause of physical illness, from cancer to autoimmune conditions and many other chronic diseases. The brain and body systems that process emotions are intimately connected with the hormonal apparatus, the nervous system, and in particular the immune system.”
Perfectionists are often in constant self-imposed emotional stress, which can have dire health consequences. As Maté explains, “Chronic illness is one way people’s bodies say no to what they have been doing to themselves.”
Similarly, do-gooders habitually neglect their needs to assist others, perpetuating a cycle of stress and emotional exhaustion. Dr. Maté clarifies that this inclination isn’t inherently detrimental; instead, it becomes an issue when it manifests as a refusal to set boundaries or say ‘no’ — an emotional conflict that the body may eventually mirror.
He asserts, “The research literature has identified three factors…