Perfectionism (psychology)

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Perfectionism (psychology)
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{{Distinguish|Perfectionism (philosophy)}}{{medref|date=November 2017}}{{use dmy dates|date=November 2016}}Perfectionism, in psychology, is a personality trait characterized by a person's striving for flawlessness and setting high performance standards, accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others' evaluations.JOURNAL, Stoeber, Joachim, Childs, Julian H., The Assessment of Self-Oriented and Socially Prescribed Perfectionism: Subscales Make a Difference, Journal of Personality Assessment, 2010, 92, 6, 577–585, 10.1080/00223891.2010.513306, 20954059,weblink BOOK, Flett, G. L., Perfectionism, 2002, American Psychological Association, Washington, DC, 5–31, Hewitt, P. L., It is best conceptualized as a multidimensional characteristic, as psychologists agree that there are many positive and negative aspects. In its maladaptive form, perfectionism drives people to attempt to achieve unattainable ideals or unrealistic goals, often leading to depression and low self-esteem. By contrast, adaptive perfectionism can motivate people to reach their goals, and to derive pleasure from doing so.


Perfectionists strain compulsively and unceasingly toward unobtainable goals, and measure their self-worth by productivity and accomplishment.JOURNAL
, Parker, W. D.
, Adkins, K. K.
, Perfectionism and the gifted
, Roeper Review
, 17, 3, 173–176
, 1995
, 10.1080/02783199509553653
, Pressuring oneself to achieve unrealistic goals inevitably sets the person up for disappointment. Perfectionists tend to be harsh critics of themselves when they fail to meet their standards.

Normal vs. neurotic

D. E. Hamachek in 1978 argued for two contrasting types of perfectionism, classifying people as tending towards normal perfectionism or neurotic perfectionism. Normal perfectionists are more inclined to pursue perfection without compromising their self-esteem, and derive pleasure from their efforts. Neurotic perfectionists are prone to strive for unrealistic goals and feel dissatisfied when they cannot reach them. Hamachek offers several strategies that have proven useful in helping people change from maladaptive towards healthier behavior.JOURNAL
, Hamachek, D. E.
, Psychodynamics of normal and neurotic perfectionism
, Psychology: A Journal of Human Behavior
, 15, 27–33
, 1978
, {{inconsistent citations, }} Contemporary research supports the idea that these two basic aspects of perfectionistic behavior, as well as other dimensions such as "nonperfectionism", can be differentiated. They have been labeled differently, and are sometimes referred to as positive striving and maladaptive evaluation concerns, active and passive perfectionism, positive and negative perfectionism, and adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism.JOURNAL, Stoeber, Joachim, Otto, Kathleen, Positive Conceptions of Perfectionism: Approaches, Evidence, Challenges, Personality and Social Psychology Review, 2006, 10, 4, 295–319, 10.1207/s15327957pspr1004_2, 17201590,weblink Although there is a general perfectionism that affects all realms of life, some researchers contend that levels of perfectionism are significantly different across different domains (i.e. work, academic, sport, interpersonal relationships, home life).
Others such as T. S. Greenspon disagree with the terminology of "normal" vs. "neurotic" perfectionism, and hold that perfectionists desire perfection and fear imperfection and feel that other people will like them only if they are perfect.JOURNAL, Greenspon, T. S., 2008, Making sense of error: A view of the origins and treatment of perfectionism, American Journal of Psychotherapy, 62, 3, 263–282, 10.1176/appi.psychotherapy.2008.62.3.263, 18846972, For Greenspon, perfectionism itself is thus never seen as healthy or adaptive, and the terms "normal" or "healthy" perfectionism are misnomers, since absolute perfection is impossible. He argues that perfectionism should be distinguished from "striving for excellence",Greenspon, T. S. (2007)What to do when good enough is not good enough: The real deal on perfectionism. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing.{{sps|date=November 2017}}{{sps|date=November 2017}}Greenspon, T. S. (2002) Freeing Our Families From Perfectionism. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing.JOURNAL, Greenspon, T. S., 2000, "Healthy perfectionism" is an oxymoron! Reflections on the psychology of perfectionism and the sociology of science, The Journal of Secondary Gifted Education, XI, 4, 197–208, 10.4219/jsge-2000-631, in particular with regard to the meaning given to mistakes. Those who strive for excellence can take mistakes (imperfections) as incentive to work harder. Unhealthy perfectionists consider their mistakes a sign of personal defects. For these people, anxiety about potential failure is the reason perfectionism is felt as a burden.

Strivings vs. concerns

J. Stoeber and K. Otto suggest that perfectionism consists of two main dimensions: perfectionistic strivings and perfectionistic concerns. Perfectionistic strivings are associated with positive aspects of perfectionism; perfectionistic concerns are associated with negative aspects (see below).
  • Healthy perfectionists score high in perfectionistic strivings and low in perfectionistic concerns.
  • Unhealthy perfectionists score high in both strivings and concerns.
  • Non-perfectionists show low levels of perfectionistic strivings.
Prompted by earlier research providing empirical evidence that perfectionism could be associated with positive aspects (specifically perfectionistic strivings),JOURNAL
, Frost, R. O.
, Heimburg, R. G.
, Holt, C. S.
, Mattia, J. I.
, Neubauer, A. A.
, A comparison of two measures of perfectionism
, Personality and Individual Differences
, 14, 469–489
, 1993
, 10.1016/0191-8869(93)90181-2
, {{inconsistent citations, }} they challenged the widespread belief that perfectionism is only detrimental. In fact, people with high levels of perfectionistic strivings and low levels of perfectionist concerns demonstrated more self-esteem, agreeableness, academic success and social interaction. This type of perfectionist also showed fewer psychological and somatic issues typically associated with perfectionism, namely depression, anxiety and maladaptive coping styles.


Multidimensional perfectionism scale (FMPS)

Randy O. Frost et al. (1990) developed a multidimensional perfectionism scale (now known as the "Frost Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale", FMPS) with six dimensions:JOURNAL, Frost, Randy O., Marten, Patricia, Lahart, Cathleen, Rosenblate, Robin, 1990, The dimensions of perfectionism, Cognitive Therapy and Research, 14, 5, 449–468, 10.1007/BF01172967,
  1. Concern over making mistakes
  2. High personal standards (striving for excellence)
  3. The perception of high parental expectations
  4. The perception of high parental criticism
  5. The doubting of the quality of one's actions, and
  6. A preference for order and organization.
Hewitt & Flett (1991) devised another "multidimensional perfectionism scale", a 45-item measure that rates three aspects of perfectionistic self-presentation:JOURNAL
, Hewitt, P.
, Flett, G.
, Dimensions of Perfectionism in Unipolar Depression
, Journal of Abnormal Psychology
, 100, 1, 98–101
, 1991
, 10.1037/0021-843X.100.1.98
, 2005279,
  1. Self-oriented perfectionism
  2. Other-oriented perfectionism, and
  3. Socially prescribed perfectionism.
Self-oriented perfectionism is having unrealistic expectations and standards for oneself that lead to perfectionistic motivation.WEB, The Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale: Reliability, validity, and psychometric properties in psychiatric samples,weblink 3 March 2016, yes,weblink" title="">weblink 12 December 2012, An example is the constant desire to achieve an ideal physical appearance out of vanity. Other-oriented perfectionism is having unrealistic expectations and standards for others that in turn pressure them to have perfectionistic motivations of their own. Socially prescribed perfectionism is developing perfectionistic motivations due to the fact that significant others expect them to be perfect. Parents that push their children to be successful in certain endeavors (such as athletics or academics) provide an example of this type of perfectionism, as the children feel that they must meet their parents' lofty expectations.A similarity has been pointed out among Frost's distinction between setting high standards for oneself and the level of concern over making mistakes in performance (the two most important dimensions of the FMPS and Hewitt & Flett's distinction between self-oriented versus socially prescribed perfectionism).Toon W. Taris, Ilona van Beek, Wilmar B. Schaufeli: "Why do perfectionists have a higher burnout risk than others? The mediational effect of workaholism". Romanian Journal of Applied Psychology, 2010, Vol.12, No.1, pp. 1–7.

Almost perfect scale-revised (APS-R)

Slaney and his colleagues (1996) developed the Almost Perfect Scale-Revised (APS-R) to identify perfectionists (adaptive or maladaptive) and non-perfectionists.JOURNAL
, Slaney, R.B.
, Rice, K.G.
, Mobley, M.
, Trippi, J.
, Ashby, J.S.
, The Revised Almost Perfect Scale
, Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development
, 34, 3, 130–145
, 2001
, People are classified based on their scores for three measures:
  1. High Standards
  2. Order, and
  3. Discrepancy
Both adaptive and maladaptive perfectionists rate highly in High Standards and Order, but maladaptive perfectionists also rate highly in Discrepancy. Discrepancy refers to the belief that personal high standards are not being met, which is the defining negative aspect of perfectionism. Maladaptive perfectionists typically yield the highest social stress and anxiety scores, reflecting their feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.In general, the APS-R is a relatively easy instrument to administer, and can be used to identify perfectionist adolescents as well as adults, though it has yet to be proven useful for children.JOURNAL, Rice, Kenneth G., Ashby, Jeffrey S., Gilman, Rich, Classifying adolescent perfectionists, Psychological Assessment, 2011, 23, 3, 563–577, 10.1037/a0022482, 21319903, In one study evaluating APS-R in an adolescent population, maladaptive perfectionists obtained higher satisfaction scores than non-perfectionists. This finding suggests that adolescents' high standards may protect them from challenges to personal satisfaction when their standards are not met.Two other forms of the APS-R measure perfectionism directed towards intimate partners (Dyadic Almost Perfect Scale) and perceived perfectionism from one's family (Family Almost Perfect Scale).

Physical appearance perfectionism scale (PAPS)

The Physical Appearance Perfectionism Scale (PAPS) explains a particular type of perfectionism - the desire for a perfect physical appearance.JOURNAL, Yang, Hongfei, Stoeber, Joachim, The Physical Appearance Perfectionism Scale: Development and Preliminary Validation, Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 2012, 34, 1, 69–83, 10.1007/s10862-011-9260-7,weblink The PAPS is a multidimensional assessment of physical appearance perfectionism that provides the most insight when the sub-scales are evaluated separately.In general, the PAPS allows researchers to determine participants' body image and self-conceptions of their looks, which is critical in present times when so much attention is paid to attractiveness and obtaining the ideal appearance. The two sub-scales it uses to assess appearance concerns are:
  1. Worry About Imperfection, and
  2. Hope For Perfection.
Those that obtain high "Worry About Imperfection" scores are usually greatly concerned with maladaptive aspects of perfectionism, physical appearance, and body control behavior. They also demonstrate low positive self-perceptions of their appearance, whereas those scoring highly on "Hope for Perfection" yielded high positive self-perceptions. Hope For Perfection also corresponded with impression management behaviors and striving for ambitious goals.In summary, Worry About Imperfection relates to negative aspects of appearance perfectionism, while Hope For Perfection relates to positive aspects. One limitation of using the PAPS is the lack of psychological literature evaluating its validity.

Psychological implications

Daniels & Price (2000) refer to perfectionists as "ones". Perfectionists are focused on personal integrity and can be wise, discerning and inspiring in their quest for the truth. They also tend to dissociate themselves from their flaws or what they believe are flaws (such as negative emotions) and can become hypocritical and hypercritical of others, seeking the illusion of virtue to hide their own vices.JOURNAL
, Daniels, M.D., D.
, Price, PhD, V.
, The Essential Enneagram
, New York
, HarperCollins
, 2000
, {{inconsistent citations, }}
Researchers have begun to investigate the role of perfectionism in various mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders and personality disorders. Each disorder has varying levels of the three measures on the MPS-scale. Socially prescribed perfectionism in young women has been associated with greater body-image dissatisfaction and avoidance of social situations that focus on weight and physical appearance.JOURNAL, Hewitt, P. L., Flett, G., Ediger, E., Perfectionism traits and perfectionistic self-presentation in eating disorder attitudes, characteristics, and symptoms, International Journal of Eating Disorders, 1995, 18, 317–326, 10.1002/1098-108X(199512)18:43.0.CO;2-2, 8580917, 4, The self-help book Too Perfect: When Being in Control Gets Out of Control by Jeanette Dewyze and Allan Mallinger contends that perfectionists have obsessive personality types.JOURNAL
, Mallinger, A.
, DeWyze, J.
, Too Perfect: When Being in Control Gets Out of Control
, New York
, Fawcett Columbine
, 1992
, {{inconsistent citations, }} Obsessive personality type is different from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in that OCD is a clinical disorder that may be associated with specific ritualized behavior or thoughts. According to Mallinger and DeWyze, perfectionists are obsessives who need to feel in control at all times to protect themselves and ensure their own safety. By always being vigilant and trying extremely hard, they can ensure that they not only fail to disappoint or are beyond reproach but that they can protect against unforeseen issues caused by their environment. Vigilance refers to constant monitoring, often of the news, weather, and financial markets.
The relationship that exists between perfectionistic tendencies and methods of coping with stress has also been examined with some detail. One recent study found that college students with adaptive perfectionistic traits, such as goal fixation or high standards of performance, were more likely to utilize active or problem focused coping.JOURNAL, Wielkiewicz, R. M., Wonderlich, S. J., 2006, Correlations between perfectionism and coping strategies in response to researcher-selected vignettes or participant-selected events, Psychological Reports, 98, 3, 745–755, 10.2466/pr0.98.3.745-755, 16933672, Those who displayed maladaptive perfectionistic tendencies, such as rumination over past events or fixation on mistakes, tended to utilize more passive or avoidance coping. Despite these differences, both groups tended to utilize self-criticism as a coping method. This is consistent with theories that conceptualize self-criticism as a central element of perfectionism.JOURNAL, Dunkley, David M., Zuroff, David C., Blankstein, Kirk R., 2003, Self-critical perfectionism and daily affect: dispositional and situational influences on stress and coping, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 1, 234–252, 10.1037/0022-3514.84.1.234, There have been identified three main components of perfectionism:JOURNAL,weblink Perfectionism, Linda Kreger, Silverman, 1 January 1999, Gifted Education International, 13, 3, 216–225,, 10.1177/026142949901300303,
  1. self-oriented
  2. other-oriented, and
  3. socially prescribed
Self-oriented perfectionism is an intrapersonal dimension characterized by a strong motivation to be perfect, setting and striving for unrealistic self-standards, focusing on flaws, and generalization of self-standards. Self-oriented perfectionism may also involve a well-articulated ideal self-schema.Other-oriented perfectionism involves similar behaviors, but these behaviors are directed toward others instead of toward the self.Socially prescribed perfectionism entails the belief that others have perfectionistic expectations and motives for oneself.

Positive aspects

Perfectionism can drive people to accomplishments and provide the motivation to persevere in the face of discouragement and obstacles. Roedell (1984) argues:In a positive form, perfectionism can provide the driving energy which leads to great achievement. The meticulous attention to detail, necessary for scientific investigation, the commitment which pushes composers to keep working until the music realises the glorious sounds playing in the imagination, and the persistence which keeps great artists at their easels until their creation matches their conception all result fromperfectionism.JOURNAL
, Roedell, W. C.
, Vulnerabilities of highly gifted children
, Roeper Review
, 6, 3, 127–130
, 1984
, 10.1080/02783198409552782
, {{inconsistent citations, }}
Slaney and his colleagues found that adaptive perfectionists had lower levels of procrastination than non-perfectionists. In the field of positive psychology, an adaptive and healthy variation of perfectionism is referred to as optimalism.MAGAZINE, Neimark, Jill, The Optimism Revolution, Psychology Today, May 2007, 1–3,weblink 1 July 2011, ., {{ums|date=November 2017}}The adaptive form of perfectionism is also typically considered the positive component of this personality trait. Adaptive perfectionism includes preferences for order and organization, a persistent striving for excellence, and conscientious orientation to tasks and performance.JOURNAL, Rice, Kenneth G., Leever, Brooke A., Noggle, Chad A., Lapsley, Daniel K., Perfectionism and depressive symptoms in early adolescence, Psychology in the Schools, 2007, 44, 2, 139–156, 10.1002/pits.20212, All of these characteristics are accompanied by low criticism and negativity, and high support and self-esteem. The positive, adaptive forms of perfectionism are more closely associated with the Big Five personality factor of conscientiousness, whereas maladaptive forms are more similar to neuroticism (see below).Scientists that intently pursue their interests in the laboratory are often considered perfectionists. This obsession with an end result may motivate them to work diligently and maintain an impressive work ethic. Famous figures also have publicly admitted that they have perfectionist tendencies, suggesting that an intense focus on one's passion can lead to success. Martha Stewart once described herself to Oprah Winfrey as a "maniacal perfectionist."NEWS, Brett, Bill, Are They Too Perfect?,weblink The Boston Globe, 12 May 2012, High-achieving athletes often show signs of perfectionism as well.JOURNAL, Lemyre, P.-N., Hall, H. K., Roberts, G. C., A Social Cognitive Approach to Burnout in Elite Athletes, Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 18, 2, 221–34, 2007, 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2007.00671.x, 17617173,weblink 10 February 2018, A Social Cognitive Approach to Burnout in Elite Athletes, Exceptionally talented people are also often perfectionists. Many individuals now widely regarded as geniuses were obsessive about the quality of their work. In the book Isaac Newton's Natural Philosophy, it is said that "Newton, perhaps because of a basic ambivalence between wanting his discoveries to be known and his fear of criticism, tended to be fussy about his publications." When finding that an initial print of his Opticks (1704) featured errors, his response was for his name to be removed from the title page entirely; his reaction was the same after William Whiston used the wrong manuscript when printing Arithmetica Universalis (1707).BOOK,weblink Isaac Newton's Natural Philosophy, 27, Buchwald, Jed Z., Cohen, I. Bernard, MIT Press, 2001, 978-0262524254, Scholar D. T. Whiteside likewise notes Newton's "usual perfectionist manner".BOOK,weblink The Mathematical Papers of Isaac Newton, 340, Whiteside, D. T., Cambridge University Press, 2008, 978-0521045919, Other highly celebrated figures who were perfectionists include Filippo Brunelleschi,BOOK,weblink Filippo Brunelleschi: The Buildings, 219, Saalman, Howard, Penn State Press, 1993, 978-0271010670, Leonardo da Vinci,NEWS,weblink Dissecting Da Vinci: What makes a modern medical artist?, Hastie, Paul, BBC, 9 August 2013, 8 February 2017, NEWS,weblink Painter, polymath, perfectionist, Dunne, Aidan, The Irish Times, 5 November 2011, 8 February 2017, Nicolaus Copernicus,BOOK,weblink On the Shoulders of Giants: The Great Works of Physics and Astronomy, 4, Hawking, Stephen, Running Press, 2003, 978-0762416981, "Copernicus was a perfectionist and considered his observations in constant need of verification and revision." Ludwig van Beethoven,NEWS,weblink Beethoven string quartet lost for 200 years to get premiere in Manchester, Higgins, Charlotte, The Guardian, 27 September 2011, 8 February 2017, NEWS,weblink British Professor Reconstructs Some Rejected Beethoven, NPR, 2 October 2011, 8 February 2017, Gustave Flaubert,NEWS,weblink Blots and all: Gustave Flaubert's travel diary among rare books at historic sale, Willsher, Kim, The Guardian, 7 November 2016, 8 February 2017, "The handwritten manuscript is page after page of scratched out notes, smudges, comments and ink blots that reveal just how arduous the French novelist Gustave Flaubert found the writing process."NEWS,weblink Flaubert — the writer’s writer par excellence — is a real challenge to write about, Robb, Graham, The Spectator, 22 October 2016, 8 February 2017, Johannes Brahms,WEB,weblink Johannes Brahms, La Salle University, 8 February 2017, BOOK,weblink The Piano, 128, Siepmann, Jeremy, Hal Leonard Corporation, 1998, 978-0793599769, "Brahms was perhaps the most compulsively perfectionist composer who ever lived." Franz Kafka,NEWS,weblink Unraveling a Nazi Mystery: Are Franz Kafka’s Missing Love Letters in Berlin?, McNearney, Allison, The Daily Beast, 4 February 2017, 8 February 2017, "When Kafka died, he had only published several stories. Being the perfectionist that he was, he left strict instructions that all of his remaining papers and works were to be burned unread. He allegedly destroyed around 90 percent of his output himself before his death." Stanley Kubrick,NEWS,weblink Stanley Kubrick, Film Director With a Bleak Vision, Dies at 70, Holden, Stephen, The New York Times, 8 March 1999, 8 February 2017, "[...] an extreme perfectionist who insisted on control over every aspect of his films, from casting and screenwriting to editing, lighting and music. It often took him many months and sometimes years to complete a film. He was known to film up to 100 takes of a scene."NEWS,weblink 'I haven't got it yet!': The relentless, ridiculous perfectionism of Stanley Kubrick, Freer, Ian, The Daily Telegraph, 30 July 2016, 8 February 2017, "Kubrick's renowned uncompromising perfectionism, [...] his methods in pursuing his vision remain legendary..." Andrei Tarkovsky,MAGAZINE,weblink Andrei Tarkovsky Achieved Sublimity Through 'The Sacrifice', Solis, Jose, PopMatters, 1 September 2011, 8 February 2017, NEWS,weblink A Place of Our Deepest Desires, Hoberman, J., The New York Times, 2 March 2012, 8 February 2017, "Tarkovsky was a perfectionist. The script for "Stalker" went through countless rewrites [...]" Brian Wilson,MAGAZINE,weblink Brian Wilson Remembers Pet Sounds on the Album's 50th Anniversary, Slate, Jeff, Esquire, 16 May 2016, 8 February 2017, The author describes Wilson as "famously perfectionist".NEWS,weblink Brian Wilson on the Beach Boys’ ‘Rivalry’ with the Beatles and Flying Solo, Slate, Jeff, The Daily Beast, 4 April 2015, 8 February 2017, and Steve Jobs,MAGAZINE,weblink How Steve Jobs Changed, Surowiecki, James, The New Yorker, 17 October 2011, 8 February 2017, "As seemingly everyone on the planet knows, Steve Jobs’s defining quality was perfectionism. The development of the Macintosh, for instance, took more than three years, because of Jobs’s obsession with detail. [...] And he wanted his engineers to redesign the Mac’s motherboard, just because it looked inelegant."NEWS,weblink 'Steve Jobs': Profiling An Ingenious Perfectionist, NPR, 11 November 2011, 8 February 2017, all of whom have been considered to be among the most central figures in their respective fields' histories. Gary Garrison wrote of Kubrick, "His perfectionism led to a handful of cinema’s finest works."WEB,weblink Watch: 75-Minute Video Essay Breaks Down The Making Of Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey', Garrison, Gary, IndieWire, 22 January 2016, 8 February 2017, Some{{who|date=February 2017}} contend that Michelangelo's perfectionism motivated him to painstakingly complete works including the statue David and the Sistine Chapel ceiling. In The Guardian, Laya Maheshwari argued that perfectionism's bad reputation is unfair and wrote that "when there’s even one ambitious member who’ll create self-imposed deadlines and ask for a chart to supplement the bullet point, the work you produce will be that much better."NEWS,weblink Perfectionists relax: we’re good enough as we are, Maheshwari, Laya, The Guardian, 18 May 2015, 8 February 2017,

Negative aspects

In its pathological form, perfectionism can be damaging. It can take the form of procrastination when used to postpone tasks and self-deprecation when used to excuse poor performance or to seek sympathy and affirmation from other people. These, together or separate, are self-handicapping strategies perfectionists may use to protect their sense of self-competence.JOURNAL, Jones, E.E., Berglas, S., 1978, Control of attributions about the self through selfhandicapping strategies: The appeal of alcohol and the role of underachievement,weblink Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 3, 200–206, JOURNAL, Kearns, Hugh, Forbes, Angus, Gardiner, Maria, Marshall, Kelly, December 2008, When a High Distinction Isn't Good Enough: A Review of Perfectionism and Self-Handicapping,weblink Australian Educational Researcher, 35, 3, 21–36, In general, maladaptive perfectionists feel constant pressure to meet their high standards, which creates cognitive dissonance when one cannot meet their own expectations. Perfectionism has been associated with numerous other psychological and physiological complications as well.


Perfectionism is increasingly being seen as a risk factor for suicide that has a double edged sword. The tendency of perfectionists to have excessively high expectations of self and to be self-critical when their efforts do not meet the standard they have established combined with their tendency to show a "perfect face" to the world increases their risk of suicide ideation while decreasing the likelihood they will seek help when they should.Greenspon, Thomas S. "Is There an Antidote to Perfectionism?" Psychology in the Schools, November 2014: 986–998.

Anorexia nervosa

Perfectionism has been linked with anorexia nervosa in research for decades. Researchers in 1949 described the behavior of the average anorexic girl as being "rigid" and "hyperconscious", observing also a tendency to "neatness, meticulosity, and a mulish stubbornness not amenable to reason [which] make her a rank perfectionist".JOURNAL, American Journal of Psychiatry, DuBois, F.S., 1949, Compulsion neurosis with cachexia (Anorexia Nervosa), 106, 2, 107–115, 10.1176/ajp.106.2.107, 18135398, Perfectionism is a life enduring trait in the biographies of anorexics. It is felt before the onset of the eating disorder, generally in childhood,JOURNAL, Anderluh, Marija Brecelj, Lifetime course of eating disorders: design and validity testing of a new strategy to define the eating disorders phenotype, 2009,weblink Psychological Medicine, 39, 1, 105–114, 10.1017/S0033291708003292, 18377676, during the illness,JOURNAL, Perfectionism in Anorexia Nervosa:Variation by Clinical Subtype, Obsessionality, and Pathological Eating Behavior, Katherine A., Halmi, etal, 2000, Am J Psychiatry, 1799–1805, 157, 11,weblink 10.1176/appi.ajp.157.11.1799, 11058477, and also, after remission.JOURNAL, Srinivasagam, Persistent perfectionism, symmetry, and exactness after long-term recovery from anorexia nervosa, American Journal of Psychiatry, 1995, 7485626, 152, 11, 1630–4, 10.1176/ajp.152.11.1630,, The incessant striving for thinness among anorexics is itself a manifestation of this trait, of an insistence upon meeting unattainably high standards of performance.Because of its chronicity, those with eating disorders also display perfectionistic tendencies in other domains of life than dieting and weight control. Over-achievement at school, for example, has been observed among anorexics,JOURNAL, The Significance of Bulimia in Juvenile Anorexia Nervosa: An Exploration of Possible Etiologic Factors, 1981, International Journal of Eating Disorders, Michael Strober, 1, 1, 28–43, 10.1002/1098-108x(198123);2-9, JOURNAL, Clinical Diagnostic Criteria for Primary Anorexia Nervosa, 1979, D. L. Norris, South African Medical Journal, 987–93, as a result of their over-industrious behavior.JOURNAL, Differences between IQ and school achievement in anorexia nervosa, 1989, Journal of Clinical Psychology, JR Dura, 45, 433–5, 2745732, 3, 10.1002/1097-4679(198905);2-x, etal, BOOK, The Golden Cage: The Enigma of Anorexia Nervosa, Hilde Bruch, 2001, First Harvard University Press, 46, BOOK, L'anorexie mentale, une déraison philosophique, Bernard Viallettes, 2001, 978-2-7475-0876-6, L'Harmattan, ...even in the category of young women with low IQs, some had brilliant school records. This probably is the result of the persistence in work that characterizes anorexic patients., 89, To help individuals differentiate if they have an eating disorder or a non-eating disorder, they are able to take a self-report instrument called the Questionnaire for Eating Disorder Diagnosis (QEDD) which has been used in several studies of anorexia nervosa.Sutandar-Pinnock, K., Woodside, D.B., Carter, J.C., Olmsted, M.P., and Kaplan, A.S. (2003). Perfectionism in Anorexia Nervosa: A 6-24-month follow-up study. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 33(2). 9-10. DOI: 10.1002/eat.10127.The level of perfectionism was found to have an influence in individual’s long-term recovery of anorexia. Those who scored a normal range of perfectionism were able to have a faster recovery rate than patients who scored high in perfectionism.Sutandar-Pinnock, K., Woodside, D.B., Carter, J.C., Olmsted, M.P., and Kaplan, A.S. (2003). Perfectionism in Anorexia Nervosa: A 6-24-month follow-up study. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 33(2). 1. DOI: 10.1002/eat.10127.

General applications

Perfectionism often shows up in performance at work or school, neatness and aesthetics, organization, writing, speaking, physical appearance, and health and personal cleanliness.BOOK, Antony, PhD, Martin, When Perfect Isn't Good Enough: Strategies for Coping with Perfectionism, 2009, New Harbinger Publications, Oakland, CA, 978-1572245594, 312, In the workplace, perfectionism is often marked by low productivity and missed deadlines as people lose time and energy by paying attention to irrelevant details of their tasks, ranging from major projects to mundane daily activities. This can lead to depression, social alienation, and a greater risk of workplace "accidents".NEWS
, Psychology Today
, Perfectionism: Impossible Dream
, Psychology Today
, May 1995
, {{inconsistent citations, }}{{ums|date=November 2017}} Adderholdt-Elliot (1989) describes five characteristics of perfectionist students and teachers which contribute to underachievement: procrastination, fear of failure, an "all-or-nothing" mindset, paralysed perfectionism, and workaholism.JOURNAL
, Adderholdt-Elliot, M.
, Perfectionism and underachievement
, Gifted Child Today
, 12, 1, 19–21
, 1989
, {{inconsistent citations, | doi = 10.1177/107621758901200108
}}{{ums|date=November 2017}}
According to C. Allen, in intimate relationships, unrealistic expectations can cause significant dissatisfaction for both partners.NEWS
, Allen, C.
, The Perfectionist's Flawed Marriage
, Psychology Today
, May 2003
, {{inconsistent citations, }}{{ums|date=November 2017}} Greenspon lists behaviors, thoughts, and feelings that typically characterize perfectionism. Perfectionists will not be content with their work until it meets their standards, which can make perfectionists less efficient in finishing projects, and they therefore will struggle to meet deadlines.
In a different occupational context, athletes may develop perfectionist tendencies. Optimal physical and mental performance is critical for professional athletes, which are aspects that closely relate to perfectionism. Although perfectionist athletes strive to succeed, they can be limited by their intense fear of failure and therefore not exert themselves fully or feel overly personally responsible for a loss.WEB, The Downside of Perfectionism in Sports,weblink Sports Psychology Today, 12 May 2012, {{ums|date=November 2017}} Because their success is frequently measured by a score or statistics, perfectionist athletes may feel excessive pressure to succeed.Perfectionism sheds light on people's desire for structure and guidance. They tend to work well in structured environments with explicit instructions. Because perfectionists focus on concrete aspects of a task, they may be inflexible to change and lack creativity if problems arise. This can pose a problem when an unforeseen situation arises.{{citation needed|date=June 2013}}

In geniuses

While perfectionism has played a major role in the achievements of many highly accomplished historical figures, there have been examples of extreme perfectionism leading important thinkers to not release their works and thus fail to have the direct influence on their field(s) that they could have had. Historian Eric Temple Bell said of Carl Friedrich Gauss, for example, that if the mathematician had published all his discoveries in a timely manner, he would have advanced mathematics by 50 years.BOOK, Men of mathematics. The lives and achievements of the great mathematicians from zeno to poincare, T., Bell, E., 1965, Simon and Schuster, 978-0671464004, New York, 493383943,

Medical complications

Perfectionists can suffer from anxiety and low self-esteem. Perfectionism is a risk factor for obsessive compulsive disorder, obsessive compulsive personality disorder, eating disorders, social anxiety, social phobia, body dysmorphic disorder, workaholism, self harm, substance abuse, and clinical depression as well as physical problems like chronic stress, and heart disease. In addition, studies have found that people with perfectionism have a higher mortality rate than those without perfectionism.WEB, Being a Perfectionist Can take toll on health,weblink 22 March 2012, A possible reason for this is the additional stress and worry that accompanies the irrational belief that everything should be perfect.{{citation needed|date=June 2013}}Therapists{{who|date=June 2013}} attempt to tackle the negative thinking that surrounds perfectionism, in particular the "all-or-nothing" thinking in which the client believes that an achievement is either perfect or useless. They encourage clients to set realistic goals and to face their fear of failure.{{citation needed|date=June 2013}}Since perfectionism is a self-esteem issue based on emotional convictions about what one must do to be acceptable as a person, negative thinking is most successfully addressed in the context of a recovery process which directly addresses these emotional convictions.


According to Arnold Cooper, narcissism can be considered as a self-perceived form of perfectionism – "an insistence on perfection in the idealized self-object and the limitless power of the grandiose self. These are rooted in traumatic injuries to the grandiose self."Arnold M. Cooper, "Introduction" in Arnold M. Cooper ed., Contemporary Psychoanalysis in America (2006) p. xxxivNarcissists often are pseudo-perfectionists and require being the center of attention and create situations where they will receive attention. This attempt at being perfect is cohesive with the narcissist's grandiose self-image. If a perceived state of perfection isn't reached it can lead to guilt, shame, anger or anxiety because he/she believes that he/she will lose the imagined love and admiration from other people if he or she is not perfect.WEB, Sorotzkin, Benzion, The Quest for Perfection: Avoiding Guilt or avoiding shame?, Psychology Today, 18 April 2006,weblink yes,weblink" title="">weblink 9 March 2008, dmy-all, {{ums|date=November 2017}}

Personality traits

Perfectionism is one of Raymond Cattell's 16 Personality Factors.BOOK
, Cattell, H.
, Mead, A.
, The Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF)
, The SAGE Handbook of Personality Theory and Assessment
, Gregory J. Boyle, Gerald Matthews, Donald H. Saklofske
, 2, 135–159
, 2008
, 10.4135/9781849200479.n7
, 9781412946520
, According to this construct, people who are organized, compulsive, self-disciplined, socially precise, exacting will power, controlled, and self-sentimental are perfectionists. In the Big Five personality traits, perfectionism is an extreme manifestation of conscientiousness and can provoke increasing neuroticism as the perfectionist's expectations are not met.Maladaptive perfectionism is more similar to neuroticism while adaptive perfectionism is more similar to conscientiousness. The latter positively corresponds with life satisfaction, self-esteem, secure attachment, and cohesive self-development.A study found that athletes with a respect and love for themselves ("basic self-esteem") exhibit more positive patterns of perfectionism, whereas individuals who have a self-esteem that is dependent on competence aspects ("earning self-esteem") show more negative perfectionism.JOURNAL
, Koivula, Nathalie
, Hassmén, Peter
, Fallby, Johan
, Self-esteem and perfectionism in elite athletes: effects on competitive anxiety and self-confidence
, Personality and Individual Differences
, 32, 5
, 2002
, 865–875
, 10.1016/S0191-8869(01)00092-7


Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been shown to successfully help perfectionists in reducing social anxiety, public self-consciousness, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) behaviors, and perfectionism.JOURNAL, Lundh, Lars-Gunnar, Ost, Lars-Goran, 5 November 2010, Attentional Bias, Self-consciousness and Perfectionism in Social Phobia Before and After Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy, Scandinavian Journal of Behaviour Therapy, 30, 1, 10.1080/02845710117841, 4–16, By using this approach, a person can begin to recognize their irrational thinking and find an alternative way to approach situations.Acceptance-based behavior therapy (ABBT) was demonstrated to have a major contribution to treat perfectionism from increasing awareness, increasing acceptance, and living a meaningful life.Ashbaugh, A., Antony, M.M., Liss, A., Summerfeldt, L.J., McCabe, R.E., & Swinson, R.P. (2007). Changes in perfectionism following cognitive-behavioral therapy of social phobia. Depression and Anxiety, 24, 169-177. These practices were shown to help reduce anxiety, depression, and social phobia. This approach has been shown to be effective six months post to the therapy.Ashbaugh, A., Antony, M.M., Liss, A., Summerfeldt, L.J., McCabe, R.E., & Swinson, R.P. (2007). Changes in perfectionism following cognitive-behavioral therapy of social phobia. Depression and Anxiety, 24, 169-177. Pleva, J., & Wade, T.D. (2006). Guided self-help versus pure self-help for perfectionism: A randomised controlled trial. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45, 849-861.

See also



Further reading


, Castro, J.R.
, Rice, K.G.
, Perfectionism and ethnicity: implications for depressive symptoms and self-reported academic achievement
, Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology
, 9, 1, 64–78
, 9 February 2003
, 10.1037/1099-9809.9.1.64
, 12647326
, {{inconsistent citations, }}
  • WEB, Jackson, Melissa, Why perfect is not always best,weblink BBC News, 14 March 2013, 19 June 2004,
  • WEB, Phillipson, PhD, Steven, The Right Stuff: Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder: A Defect of Philosophy, not Anxiety,weblink Center for Cognitive-Behavioral Psychotherapy, 14 March 2013,
  • Shaw, Daniel (2013). Traumatic Narcissism: Relational Systems of Subjugation. Routledge

External links

{{Sister project links|Perfectionism}} {{Narcissism}}

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