Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Perfectionism

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What is perfectionism and what is the effect of perfectionism on people's psychological lives?

Overview[edit | edit source]

What is perfectionism?[edit | edit source]


Theorists have strained over producing a precise definition of perfectionism; however literature has emphasized a few important features. The first being the setting of excessively high personal standards of performance. Many theorists have indicated that the setting of excessively high standards is central to the concept of perfectionism (Fursland, Raykos & Steele 2009; Hamachek, 1978; Hollander, 1965). The problem that arises with trying to define perfectionism with this central concept is that it does not distinguish perfectionistic people from those who are highly competent and successful. The setting of and striving for a high standard is not in itself pathological, Hamachek (1978) discourses the distinction between ‘normal’ and ‘neurotic’ perfectionists and these differences are depicted later in the chapter. Another important feature that is used to define perfectionists is considering your self-worth to be based mainly on your ability to strive for and achieve these high standards. The psychological problems associated with this result from being overly critical of one’s own behaviour. Perfectionists have an increased level of concern over mistakes in performance; this in turn leads them to strive for their goals by fear of failure rather than a need for achievement (Frost, Marten, Lahart & Rosenblate, 1990). A final feature is an over emphasis on precision, order, and organisation. Hollander (1965) describes it as “There is a place for everything, and everything must be in place” (p.96). It refers to the process of how the individual actually attempts to meet their standards and goals.
In recent times, perfectionism has been perceived as a multidimensional personality trait. This multidimensional personality trait has been related to psychological difficulties, distortions of interpersonal relations and an erroneous relationship to success. According to this multidimensional model, perfectionism is viewed as a three dimensional construct comprising of self-oriented, other-oriented and socially prescribed perfectionism. The first of the three reflects ones tendency to define high or unreachable personal standards of achievement and it has been linked to disorders such as depression and anxiety. Other-oriented perfectionism affects individuals who have high expectations for those in their social environment. Lastly, socially- prescribed perfectionism is related to perceived environmental pressures. Individuals perceive pressure from others to hold excessively high standards of achievement (Guignard, Jacquet & Lubar, 2012).

The development of perfectionism[edit | edit source]

Many theorists that have conducted research on perfection and perfectionism have some consensus about how perfectionism develops. It is said that perfectionism can stem from interactions from a young age between children and their parents which are perfectionistic and demanding. There have been numerous different parenting approaches and styles that have been associated with perfectionism. There are four main types of early experiences that have been said to contribute to the development in perfectionistic thinking, these include:

1. Overly critical and demanding parents;
2. Parents having exceedingly high expectations and standards of performance from their children;
3. Parental approval is lacking, inconsistent or conditional; and
4. Parents displaying their perfectionistic behaviours and acting as models for perfectionistic attitudes. (Shafran & Mansell, 2001)

Normal vs. neurotic perfectionists[edit | edit source]

Early theorists conceptualised perfectionism to be a one-dimensional concept that was a negative characteristic closely associated with psychopathology. Theorist Hamachek (1978) was one of the very first psychologists to argue that perfectionism should in fact be categorized into two types; normal perfectionism and neurotic perfectionism (Stober & Otto, 2006).

Since Hamachek (1978) released his influential article, an emerging body of evidence has accumulated supporting the validity of this two-factor model of perfectionism (Enns, Cox & Clara,2002; Cox, Enns & Clara, 2002; Stumpf & Parker, 2000). Factor analyses of several measures of perfectionism have discovered two-factor solutions that have been interpreted as positive and negative aspects of perfectionism. Positive or normal perfectionism comprises of setting high goals and personal standards and striving for the rewards associated with achievement while retaining the ability to be satisfied with one’s performance. In contrast, negative or neurotic perfectionism is characterized by the setting of inflexible, unattainably high standards; the incompetence to take pleasure in one’s performance; and anxiety about one’s capabilities(Enns, Cox & Clara, 2002).

Measuring perfectionism[edit | edit source]

Frost Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (FMPS)[edit | edit source]

The compulsive strive for high standards is the most prominent feature of perfectionism. Furthermore, Frost et al. (1990) emphasized that perfectionists become overly critical of their own behaviours when it comes to reaching these high standards. Being overly critical of their behaviour in turn exemplifies over concern for mistakes and fear in failure. In addition to previous research on perfectionism, Frost et al. (1990) has pronounced that perfectionists place a substantial concern on their parent’s expectations and criticisms. To assess the various dimensions of perfectionism Frost and his co-authors have created a multidimensional scale, the Frost Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale. The scale consists of a 35-item questionnaire using a 5-point Likert scale ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree” and it was designed to assess several dimensions of perfectionism. The FMPS consists of the following six subscales:

  • Concern over Mistakes (CM) (e.g. If someone does a task at work/school better than I, then I feel like I failed the whole task)
  • Personal Standards (PS) (e.g. I expect higher performance in my daily tasks than most people)
  • Parental Expectations (PE) (e.g. My parents have always had higher expectations for my future than I have)
  • Parental Criticism (PC) (e.g. I never felt like I could meet my parents' expectations)
  • Doubts about actions (D) (e.g. I tend to get behind in my work because I repeat things over and over), and
  • Organization (O) (e.g. I try to be an organized person)(Frost et al.,1990,Stoeber,1998).

Almost Perfect Scale - Revised (APS-R)[edit | edit source]

Striving for perfection

The Almost Perfect Scale- Revised (APS-R) is a 23- item measure that comprises of three scales (High Standards, Discrepancy, and Order) (Slaney et al., 2001). They are designed to measure the multidimensional construct of perfectionism. The High Standards sub scale contains 7 items; it is designed to measure high personal standards for performance and achievement. The Discrepancy sub scale (12 items) measures respondents’ perceptions of themselves as failing to meet their personal standards for performance. The sub scale of Order is a 4 item subscale and it is designed to measure a person’s preference for neatness and order (Slaney et al., 2001). Participants respond to all three subscales of the APS-R using a 7-point likert scale (1 strongly disagree -7 strongly agree). The higher the score, the more you are associated to perfectionism and being a perfectionist Slaney et al., 2001).

Physical Appearance Perfectionism Scale (PAPS)[edit | edit source]

The Physical Appearance Perfectionism Scale (PAPS) aims to explain a specific type of perfectionism; the desire for a perfect physical appearance (Yang & Stoeber, 2012). The PAPS measures individual’s differences in peoples hopes and concerns about a perfect physical appearance. It investigates how these hopes and concerns are related to dimensions of general perfectionism, body image, body satisfaction, and weight control and impression management behaviours. The PAPS is a 12 item measure comprising of two subscales differentiating maladaptive concerns (Worry about imperfection: 7 items) and positive striving (Hope for perfection: 5 items) aspects of physical appearance perfectionism (Yang & Stoeber, 2012). Worry about Imperfection relates to negative aspects of appearance perfectionism, while Hope for perfection relates to positive aspects. One of the limitations that is associated with using the Physical Appearance Perfectionism Scale is the limited psychological literature assessing its validity, however findings from Yang & Stoeber (2012) suggest that the measure is a reliable and valid instrument to assess positive and negative aspects of physical appearance perfectionism.

Positive aspects[edit | edit source]

Perfectionism can often be thought of as something positive. Many people frequently associate perfectionism with high achievers. Perfectionism can be seen as a positive aspect in that when people pursue excellence or set high standards, they put in a lot of effect and challenge themselves. In turn, they are able to learn new skills and as a result tend to achieve good results. There are many underlying reasons people give for being a perfectionist, some examples include but are not limited to are ;
‘I get pleasure out of achieving what others can not do’
‘I get satisfaction out of knowing I have tried my hardest’
‘I like to do things well’ and
‘I like being organised’ (Fursland,Raykos & Steele, 2009).

Negative aspects[edit | edit source]

In general, setting high standards and goals helps us to achieve things in life. However, there are times when these standards can get in the way of our happiness. Our happiness is at times jeopardised and the drive to do well can actually impair our performance. This is known as the paradox of perfectionism. Settings standards helps people to achieve their goals, without any standards or goals people would in general achieve less. Settings standards for yourself is not a bad thing, however there is a difference between healthy perfectionism and the unhealthy strive to be perfect. The following outlines some negative and unhealthy aspects you should be aware of:

  • When you are constantly setting unattainable goals and very demanding standards, if you keep pushing yourself toward achieving them you are putting a great amount of pressure on yourself. This can have you feeling on edge, tense and stressed out.
  • Considering your self-worth to be based on your ability to achieve your high demands can make you vulnerable.Not achieving the demanding standards you set for yourself can have you feeling disappointed in yourself and like a failure (Fursland,Raykos & Steele, 2009).

Perfectionism has been positively correlated with depression, eating disorders, personality disorders, sexual dysfunction and lower levels of self-esteem for maladaptive perfectionists (Fedewa, Burns & Gomez, 2005). Research has discovered that certain aspects of perfectionism were associated with fears about failure, losing control, making mistakes, and feeling angry(Blankstein, Flett, Hewitt & Eng, 1993). Perfectionists often show signs of anxiety and problems with procrastination. Perfectionism has been known to decrease an overall satisfaction of one’s self and life. More prominently it has been known to cause higher stress in personal relationships and at work (Fedewa, Burns & Gomez, 2005).

The psychological effect of perfectionism[edit | edit source]

Perfectionism has been proclaimed as a “pathology–causing personality trait” (Fedewa, Burns,& Gomez, 2005, p. 1611). Research suggests that perfectionism as a trait has been positively correlated with depression, personality disorders, eating disorders as well as lower levels of self-esteem for neurotic perfectionists. It has been announced that certain dimensions of perfectionism are associated with certain fears about failure, making mistakes, losing control and feeling angry. Moreover, perfectionism often creates higher levels of stress in all aspects of one’s life, anxiety and problems with procrastination. It has been associated with cynicism and an overall decreased satisfaction of life and meaning (Fedewa, Burns & Gomez, 2005).

Perfectionism and anxiety disorders[edit | edit source]

Perfectionism has been declared to be associated with anxiety disorders. Many researchers have examined the relationship between perfectionism and anxiety related disorders. The studies provide results that support the relationship between perfectionism and anxiety in both non clinical and clinical trials (Kawamura, Hunt, Frost & DiBartolo, 2001). Of the anxiety disorders, social phobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder have been most closely linked to perfectionism. It has been recorded that patients with these disorders are often strongly perfectionistic. Within social phobia, socially prescribed perfectionism is considered to play a role in both development and maintenance of the disorder (Shafran & Mansell, 2001).
Social anxiety has been regarded as the doubt of ones’ ability to portray a desiring impression on other people. People who have a desire to present a perfect impression on others will experience more social anxiety (Shafran & Mansell, 2001). A cognitive model of social phobia was created by Heimberg and his colleagues (Heimberg, Juster, Hope, & Mattia, 1995) which suggested that a genetic susceptibility combined with an early experience is what later exposes people to view social encounters as threatening experiences. A set of perfectionistic beliefs develop, which primes people to expect negative consequences in social situations, resulting in anxiety and often avoidance. People suffering from social phobia and social anxiety believe that social situations are humiliating and the only way to avoid this humiliation is by delivering a perfect social impression (Heimberg et al., 1995).

Perfectionism and depression[edit | edit source]

Overcoming perfectionism[edit | edit source]

Perfectionism has shown to be significantly prominent in a range of psychological disorders; it has been identified as a maintaining factor in depression and anxiety disorders. Perfectionism is important construct to understand as it can impede the treatment of psychological disorders (Egan & Hine, 2008).

Quiz[edit | edit source]

1 Which is not a characteristic of neurotic perfectionism

anxiety about one’s capabilities
retaining the ability to be satisfied with one’s performance
setting inflexible, unattainably high standards
incompetence to take pleasure in one’s performance

2 The Almost Perfect Scale- Revised (APS-R) is a 23- item measure that comprises of three scales, what are they ?

High Standards, Parental Expectations, and Doubts about Actions
High Standards, Discrepancy, and Order
Personal Standards, Discrepancy, and Order
Personal Standards, Parental Expectations, and Organization

3 The PAPS is a 12 item measure comprising of two subscales, they are

Maladaptive concerns and worry about imperfection
Worry about imperfection, and Hope for perfection
Worry about perfection, and Hope for imperfection
Positive striving, and hope for perfection

4 Perfectionism has been positively correlated with

Eating disorders, and Anxiety disorders
Sexual dysfunction
All of the above

5 ______________ has been regarded as the doubt of ones’ ability to portray a desiring impression on other people.

Social anxiety
None of the above

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Blankstein, K.R., Flett, G.L., Hewitt, P.L & Eng. A. (1993) Dimensions of perfectionism and irrational fears: an examination with the fear survey schedule, Personality and Individual Differences, 15 ,323–328

Cox, B. J., Enns, M. W., & Clara, I. P. (2002). The multidimensional structure of perfectionism in clinically distressed and college student samples. Psychological Assessment, 14, 365-373.

Egan, S.J. & Hine,P. (2008). Cognitive Behavioural Treatment of Perfectionism: A Single Case Experimental Design Series. Behaviour Change, 25, 245-258.

Enns, M.W., Cox, B.J. & Clara. I. (2002) Adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism: Developmental origins and association with depression proneness. Personality and Individual Differences, 33, 921-935.

Fedewa, B.A, Burns, L.R. & Gomez, A.A. (2005). Positive and negative perfectionism and the shame/guilt distinction: adaptive and maladaptive characteristics,Personality and Individual Differences, 38, 1609–1619

Frost, R. O., Marten, P., Lahart, C., & Rosenblate, R. (1990). The dimensions of perfectionism. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 14, 449-468.

Fedewa, B.A., Burns, L.R. & Gomez, A.A. (2005) Positive and negative perfectionism and the shame/guilt distinction: Adaptive and maladaptive characteristics. Personality and Individual Differences, 38, 1609 -1619.

Fursland, A., Raykos, B. and Steele, A. (2009). Perfectionism in Perspective. Perth, Western Australia: Centre for Clinical Interventions.

Guignard, J.H., Jacquet, A.Y. & Lubar, T.I. (2012). Perfectionism and Anxiety: A paradox in intellectual giftedness? PLoS ONE 7(7): e41043. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0041043

Hamachek, D. E. (1978). Psychodynamics of normal and neurotic perfectionism. Psychology, 15, 27–33.

Hollander, M. H. (1965). Perfectionism. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 6, 94-103.

Kawamura, K.Y., Hunt, S.H., Frost, R.O. & DiBartolo, P.M. (2001) Perfectionism, Anxiety, and Depression: Are the relationships independent? Cognitive Therapy and Reasearch, 25, 291-301

Perfectionism [Def. 1]. (2013). Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved from

Shafran, R. & Mansell, W. (2001). Perfectionism and Psychopathology: A review of research and treatment. Clinical Psychology Review, 21, 879-906

Slaney, R. B., Rice, K. G., Mobley, M., Trippi, J., & Ashby, J. S. (2001).The Almost Perfect Scale–Revised. Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development, 34, 130-145.

Stoeber, J., & Otto, K. (2006). Positive conceptions of perfectionism: Approaches, evidence, challenges. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 10, 295-319.

Stoeber, J. (1998). The Frost Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale: More perfect with four (instead of six) dimensions. Personality and Individual Differences, 24, 481-49.

Stumpf, H., & Parker, W. D. (2000). A hierarchical structural analysis of perfectionism and its relation to other pesonality characteristics. Personality and Individual Differences, 28, 837–852.

Yang, H., & Stoeber, J. (2012). The Physical Appearance Perfectionism Scale:Development and preliminary validation, Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioural Assessment, 34,69-83

External Links[edit | edit source]