Perfectionism, in psychology, is a type of personality where there is a need for oneself or others to be the best in any given part of life. There are only two outcomes; anything less than perfect is taken to be unacceptable. The belief holds that one can achieve perfection and should aim for it. A person who believes this is called a perfectionist.
At first, some consider perfectionism as helpful. Perfectionism can lead people to achieve great things and give them motivation. However, it is considered to be a belief that is mostly unhealthy and harmful. Perfectionism makes people set goals that are unrealistic and cannot be reached. This leads to many problems like depression, anxiety, eating disorders and low self-esteem. Perfectionism may also lead to procrastination as it allows one to avoid being less than perfect ("I can't do this project until I can do it the right way."). This can mean low productivity.
Perfectionistic behaviour is growing in the newer generation. Perfectionism has received more attention by popular sayings like “practice makes perfect”. There are also more and more people who see themselves as a perfectionist. These people also mentioned their difficulties which comes with this behaviour.
Normal vs Neurotic Perfectionism[change | change source]
In 1978, D. E. Hamachek shows that there are two types of perfectionists: normal and neurotic. Normal perfectionists are people who set high goals for themselves. The main thing is that they are open to making some errors. Neurotic perfectionists also set high goals, but with no room for error. They view themselves strictly at all times. This makes them feel like nothing is done well enough.
Both types set high standards for themselves. This shows that the psychological problems that come with perfectionism come from viewing oneself strictly.
The Comprehensive Model of Perfectionism (CMPB)[change | change source]
There are a few models of perfectionism. In 2017, Hewitt et al. released one of the most detailed models. Their Comprehensive Model of Perfectionistic Behaviour splits perfectionism into many levels of a personality style. There are three levels:
1. Trait level
2. Self-presentational or other-relational level
3. Cognitive or self-relational level
The first part of this model is multiple perfectionistic traits that are linked. They include self-oriented perfectionism, socially prescribed perfectionism and other-oriented perfectionism. These are measures of the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (MPS).
The second level is concerned with the image oneself presents to others. The relational part says that rather than needing to be perfect, there is a need to only appear so. This leads to displays of perfection and hiding imperfections. They avoid making mistakes in front of others or speaking about their imperfections. This is due to a fear of being judged badly by others which will cause feelings of low self-esteem.
The cognitive part of this model refers to repeated and automatic cognitive thoughts of needing to be perfect. There is a rumination of the difference between one’s present actual self and the perfect self that one can / should be.
Measuring Perfectionism[change | change source]
Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (MPS)[change | change source]
Early theorists suggest perfectionism as firm unrealistic goals for oneself. These clinical observations were important. However, it was not possible, to sum up perfectionism as a single term. This led Frost et al. in 1990 and in 1991, Hewitt and Flett, to come up with their own multidimensional scales of perfectionism.
Frost's Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (FMPS) measures 6 different dimensions of perfectionism:
1. Concern over mistakes (CM),
2. Very high personal standards (PS),
3. Views of parental expectations (PE),
4. Views of parental criticism (PC),
5. Doubts about one’s actions (D), and
6. Organisation (O).
Examples of CM: “If I fail at work / school, I fail as a person”, “If I do not do as well as others, I am a worse human” and “The less mistakes I make, the more people will like me”.
Examples of PS: “If I do not set the highest standards for myself, I will end up second” and “I expect a higher performance of myself than normal people”.
Examples of PE: “My parents wants me to be the best at everything”.
Examples of PC: “I was punished if I did something less than perfect” and “I felt like I cannot meet my parent’s standards”.
Examples of D: “Feeling like a task is not done right, even though it was done very carefully”.
Examples of O: Liking to be neat and organised.
Hewitt & Flett’s MPS is a 45-item scale measuring three parts of perfectionism:
1. Self-oriented perfectionism,
2. Other-oriented perfectionism, and
3. Socially prescribed perfectionism.
The difference between these parts is not behavioural displays. It is to whom perfectionism is directed to (self or others) or to whom the perfectionistic behaviour is placed by (socially prescribed).
Self-oriented perfectionism refers to the setting of impossible standards and strictly examining oneself. Although there are harmful effects, it also results in motivation by aiming to achieve perfection while avoiding failure.
Other-oriented perfectionism is placing unrealistic standards for significant others. There is a focus on others being perfect and strictly examining them. This leads to blaming, lack of trust, and unkind feelings towards others. However, this dimension may link to leadership ability and giving motivation to others.
Socially prescribed perfectionism is the believed need to achieve unrealistic standards placed by other people on oneself. As the standards placed by others are felt as too much, it may often lead to anger, anxiety and depression.
References[change | change source]
- Hewitt, P. L., Flett, G. L. (1991b). "Perfectionism in the self and social contexts: Conceptualization, assessment, and association with psychopathology". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 60: 456–470 – via https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.320.1494&rep=rep1&type=pdf.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Smith, M. M., Sherry, S. B., Ge, S. Y., Hewitt, P. L., Flett, G. L., & Lee-Baggley, D. (2021). "Multidimensional perfectionism turns 30: A review of known knowns and known unknowns". Canadian Psychology.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Frost, Randy O.; Marten, Patricia; Lahart, Cathleen; Rosenblate, Robin (1990). "The dimensions of perfectionism". Cognitive Therapy and Research. 14 (5): 449–468.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Curran, Thomas; Hill, Andrew P. (2019-04). "Perfectionism is increasing over time: A meta-analysis of birth cohort differences from 1989 to 2016". Psychological Bulletin. 145 (4): 410–429. doi:10.1037/bul0000138. ISSN 1939-1455. Check date values in:
- Hamachek, D. E. (1978). "Psychodynamics of normal and neurotic perfectionism". Psychology: A Journal of Human Behavior. 15: 27–33.
- Hewitt, P. L.; Flett, G. L.; Mikail, S. F. (2017). Perfectionism: A relational approach to conceptualization, assessment, and treatment. Guilford Publications.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Hewitt, Paul L.; Flett, Gordon L. (1991). "Dimensions of perfectionism in unipolar depression". Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 100 (1): 98–101. doi:10.1037/0021-843X.100.1.98. ISSN 1939-1846.
Other websites[change | change source]
- Personality Disorders at the Open Directory Project
- Why Perfect Is Not Always Best (BBC article)
- Seeking Perfection BBC Science and Nature
- The RIGHT Stuff - Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder: A Defect of Philosophy, not Anxiety Steven Phillipson, Ph.D., Center for Cognitive-Behavioral Psychotherapy