Perfectionism, in psychology, is a personality trait characterized by a person's striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others' evaluations. 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 an unattainable ideal, and their adaptive perfectionism can sometimes motivate them to reach their goals. In the end, they derive pleasure from doing so. When perfectionists do not reach their goals, they often fall into depression.
Perfectionists strain compulsively and unceasingly toward unobtainable goals, and measure their self-worth by productivity and accomplishment. 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 perfectionists 
Hamachek was one of the first psychologists to argue for two distinct types of perfectionism, classifying people as normal perfectionists or neurotic perfectionists. Normal perfectionists pursue perfection without compromising their self-esteem, and derive pleasure from their efforts. Neurotic perfectionists strive for unrealistic goals and consistently feel dissatisfied when they cannot reach them. Today researchers largely agree that these two basic types of perfectionism are distinct. 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. 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).
Perfectionistic strivings vs. perfectionistic concerns 
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), 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.
Perfectionists desire perfection and fear imperfection and feel that other people will like them only if they are perfect. Perfectionism itself is thus never seen as healthy or adaptive.Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving for excellence. The difference is in 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.
Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (MPS) 
Hewitt & Flett (1991) devised the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (MPS), a 45-item measure that rates three aspects of perfectionistic self-presentation: self-oriented perfectionism, other-oriented perfectionism, and socially prescribed perfectionism. Self-oriented perfectionism is having irrational expectations and standards for oneself that lead to a perfectionistic motivation. An example is the constant desire to achieve an ideal physical appearance out of vanity. Other-oriented perfectionism is having irrational 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 belief 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.
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. People are classified based on their scores for High Standards, Order, and Discrepancy measures. 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. Interestingly, 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. 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 Worry About Imperfection and 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 sum, 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.
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.
The book "Too Perfect: When Being in Control Gets Out of Control" by Jeanette Dewyze and Allan Mallinger contends that perfectionists have obsessive personality types. 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. 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.
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 from perfectionism."
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.
Exceptionally talented people who excel in their field sometimes show signs of perfectionism. High-achieving athletes, scientists, and artists often show signs of perfectionism. For example, some contend that Michelangelo's perfectionism may have motivated him to painstakingly complete his masterpieces including the statue David and the Sistine Chapel. 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 have publicly admitted that they have perfectionist tendencies. Martha Stewart once described herself to Oprah Winfrey as a "maniacal perfectionist." An intense focus on one's passion can lead to success.
The adaptive form of perfectionism is 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. 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).
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. 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.
Author Hillary Rettig has identified more than a dozen characteristics of perfectionists, including:
- Grandiosity – The deluded idea that things that are difficult for other people should be easy for you.
- Focus on Product over Process – Neglecting the journey of work while fixating on the outcome.
- Focus on External Rewards over Internal Ones
- Deprecation of the True Processes of Creativity and Career-Building
- Labeling – Harshly branding oneself with terms like stupid, lazy, wimpy, etc.
- Hyperbole – Overstating the negative.
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. In the workplace, perfectionism is often marked by low productivity 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." Adderholt-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. In intimate relationships, unrealistic expectations can cause significant dissatisfaction for both partners. 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. 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.
Medical complications 
Perfectionists can suffer anxiety and low self-esteem. Perfectionism is a risk factor for 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. A possible reason for this is the additional stress and worry that accompanies the irrational belief that everything should be perfect.
Therapists 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.
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.
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."
Narcissists 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.
Personality traits 
Perfectionism is one of Raymond Cattell's 16 Personality Factors. According to this construct, people that 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.
Treatment for perfectionism can be approached from many therapeutic directions. Some examples of psychotherapy include: cognitive-behavioral therapy (the challenging of irrational thoughts and formation of alternative ways of coping and thinking), psychoanalytic therapy (an analyzation of underlying motives and issues), group therapy (where two or more clients work with one or more therapists about a specific issue, this is beneficial for those who feel as if they are the only one experiencing a certain problem), humanistic therapy (person-centered therapy where the positive aspects are highlighted), and self-therapy (personal time for the person where journaling, self-disciple, self-monitoring, and honesty with self are essential). Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been shown to successfully help perfectionists. By using this approach, the person can begin to recognize their irrational thinking and find an alternative way to approach situations. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is intended help the person to understand that it is okay to make mistakes sometimes and that those mistakes can be lessons learned.
See also 
- Big Five personality traits
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder
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- 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.
- Greenspon, T.S. (2007)What to do when good enough is not good enough: The real deal on perfectionism. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing.
- Greenspon, T.S. (2002) Freeing Our Families From Perfectionism. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing.
- 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,197–208.
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- "The Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale: Reliability, validity, and psychometric properties in psychiatric samples". Retrieved March 22, 2012.
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- Daniels, M.D., D.; Price, PhD, V. (2000). The Essential Enneagram. New York: HarperCollins
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- Mallinger, A.; DeWyze, J. (1992). Too Perfect: When Being in Control Gets Out of Control. New York: Fawcett Columbine
- Roedell, W.C. (1984). "Vulnerabilities of highly gifted children". Roeper Review 6 (3): 127–130. doi:10.1080/02783198409552782
- Neimark, Jill (May 2007). "The Optimism Revolution". Psychology Today: 1–3. Retrieved July 1, 2011.
- Brett, Bill. "Are They Too Perfect?". Boston.com. Boston Globe. Retrieved 12 May 2012.
- Rice, Kenneth G.; Leever, Brooke A.; Noggle, Chad A.; Lapsley, Daniel K. (2007). "Perfectionism and depressive symptoms in early adolescence". Psychology in the Schools 44 (2): 139–156. doi:10.1002/pits.20212.
- Antony, PhD, Martin (2009). When Perfect Isn't Good Enough: Strategies for Coping with Perfectionism. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications. p. 312. ISBN 978-1572245594.|page=
- Psychology Today (1995, May). "Perfectionism: Impossible Dream". Psychology Today
- Adderholt-Elliot, M. (1989). "Perfectionism and underachievement". Gifted Child Today 12 (1): 19–21
- Allen, C. (2003, May). "The Perfectionist's Flawed Marriage". Psychology Today
- "The Downside of Perfectionism in Sports". Sports Psychology Today. Retrieved 12 May 2012.
- "Being a Perfectionist Can take toll on health". Retrieved March 22, 2012.
- Cooper, "Introduction" p. xxxiv
- Stephens, Laura (June 2005). "Narcissistic Personality Disorder". Dr. Benzion Sorotzkin.
- Sorotzkin, Benzion (18 Apr 2006). "The Quest for Perfection: Avoiding Guilt or avoiding shame?". Psychology Today.
- Cattell, H.; Mead, A. (2008). "The Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF)". The SAGE Handbook of Personality Theory and Assessment 2: 135–159. doi:10.4135/9781849200479.n7. ISBN 9781412946520
- "Types of Therapy". Retrieved March 22, 2012.
Further Reading 
- Castro, J.R.; Rice, K.G. (2003, February 9). "Perfectionism and ethnicity: implications for depressive symptoms and self-reported academic achievement". Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology 9 (1): 64–78. doi:10.1037/1099-9809.9.1.64. PMID 12647326
- Jackson, Melissa (2004, June 19). "Why perfect is not always best". BBC News. Retrieved 14 March 2013.
- Phillipson, PhD, Steven. "The Right Stuff: Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder: A Defect of Philosophy, not Anxiety". Center for Cognitive-Behavioral Psychotherapy. Retrieved 14 March 2013.
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- Power of Shame at TED
- Personality Disorders at the Open Directory Project
- Seeking Perfection BBC Science and Nature
- The Almost Perfect Scale-Revised Robert B. Slaney & Colleagues