We all need to feel loved, significant, and that we matter. Mattering is a universal human need. To matter to others is to feel seen, heard, understood, and valued for what we do or say. Mattering is the feeling that others pay attention to us, depend on us, take interest in us, care about what we think and do, and are concerned with our fate. We all possess a strongly felt need to be acknowledged and appreciated. Indeed, to matter to others is fundamental to building a healthy and resilient self and is instrumental to protect against failures and setbacks. And to matter to others is essential for a meaningful life.
Researchers have also begun to examine the idea of anti-mattering. Anti-mattering fundamentally differs from low perceptions of mattering as it includes feeling insignificant and marginalized by others. Anti-mattering captures feeling unimportant, invisible, and irrelevant. Perceptions of anti-mattering can have serious repercussions, including lower self-esteem and increased risk of anxiety and depression. The most serious repercussion would be to question the value of our existence.
Those with greater feelings of anti-mattering are likely to overgeneralize and catastrophize their thoughts to perceive that they do not matter at all and will not matter in the future. They may even perceive that they do not matter to themselves. Given its importance, researchers are increasingly interested in examining personality traits that may influence perceptions of mattering and anti-mattering. One such trait is perfectionism.
Perfectionism captures the setting of irrational standards and harsh self-criticism. It is well established that perfectionism is associated with mental illness including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and suicide ideation. One reason why perfectionism may lead to mental illness is because of an unmet need to matter. This is because at the root of perfectionism is an interpersonal need to feel loved, connected, and a profound need to matter.
Perfectionists are driven to attain the expectations of others because they believe that only when expectations are met, they will be of worth and will matter to those who matter to them. Yet the interpersonal sensitivity and extreme fear of negative social evaluations that characterize perfectionists often generate perceptions of others as disapproving and critical. Likewise, the standards of others are perceived to be unobtainable and elusive. Consequently, perfectionists may generate feelings of anti-mattering due to the perception that others are impossible to please. The profound need to matter can be intensified when unmet and thus, many will continue to strive relentlessly to compensate for feelings of inferiority.
When perfectionists do not garner approval and affection from others and perceive themselves to be deficient in the eyes of others, they are likely to internalize this feeling of not mattering as a defective aspect of the self. These incessant negative thoughts give rise to a sense of helplessness and hopelessness, which are likely to catastrophize their thoughts to perceive that they will never matter, generating a depressing, bleak, and meaningless outlook on life. Perfectionists will dwell on their perceived unimportance and may ultimately suffer depressing consequences, including depressive symptoms and suicide ideation.
Fortunately, there are ways in which we can instill a sense of mattering in others and in ourselves:
1. Pay attention to what matters most. Perfectionists, in particular, should strive to form meaningful and authentic relationships with others, which are not contingent upon achievements and meeting others’ expectations. We must recognize that our lives are not measured by what we accomplish, but rather how we impact others.
2. Actively take interest, acknowledge, listen, and show others they matter. It is also likely others will reciprocate these actions and also show you that you matter.
3. Touch the lives of others. Reach out, be kind, and make others feel worthy and valued. In doing so, we will create a meaningful life that is certainly worth living.
Flett, G. L., Galfi-Pechenkov, I., Molnar, D. S., Hewitt, P. L., & Goldstein, A. L. (2012). Perfectionism, mattering, and depression: A meditational analysis. Personality and Individual Differences, 52, 828-832.
Flett, G. L. (2018). The psychology of mattering: Understanding the human need to be significant. London: Elsevier.
Hewitt, P. L., Flett, G. L., & Mikail, S. F. (2017). Perfectionism: A relational approach to conceptualization, assessment, and treatment. Guilford Publications.
Hewitt, P. L., Flett, G. L., Sherry, S. B., & Caelian, C. (2006). Trait perfectionism dimensions and suicidal behavior. In T. E. Ellis (Eds.), Cognition and Suicide: Theory, Research, and Therapy (pp. 215-235). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Rosenberg, M., & McCullough, B. C. (1981). Mattering: Inferred significance and mental health among adolescents. Research in Community and Mental Health, 2, 163–182.