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Perfectionism, in psychology, is a belief that perfection can and should be attained. In its pathological form, perfectionism is a belief that work or output that is anything less than perfect is unacceptable. At such levels, this is considered an unhealthy belief, and psychologists typically refer to such individuals as maladaptive perfectionists.


Measurement and definition

Hamachek describes two types of perfectionism. Normal perfectionists "derive a very real sense of pleasure from the labours of a painstaking effort" while neurotic perfectionists are "unable to feel satisfaction because in their own eyes they never seem to do things [well] enough to warrant that feeling of satisfaction". Burns defines perfectionists as "people who strain compulsively and unremittingly toward impossible goals and who measure their own worth entirely in terms of productivity and accomplishment".[1]

Hewitt & Flett (1991) devised the Perfectionistic Self-Presentation Scale (PSPS), which rates three aspects of perfectionistic self-presentation: advertising one's own perfection, avoiding situations in which one might appear to be imperfect and failing to disclose situations in which one has been imperfect.[2]

Slaney (1996) created the Almost Perfect scale, which contains four variables: Standards and Order, Relationships, Anxiety, and Procrastination. It distinguishes between adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism. Both adaptive and maladaptive perfectionists rate highly in Standards and Order, but maladaptive perfectionists also rate highly in Anxiety and Procrastination.[3]

In the book Too Perfect, the authors describe perfectionists as having obsessive personality types. The obsessive personality type is distinct from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD); 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 being constantly 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 (such as economic downturn). Vigilance may include constant monitoring of the news, weather, and financial markets.[4]

Perfectionists may be workaholics who cannot relax; people who reproach themselves for days after the smallest error, such as a word out of place; the person so intent on finding the perfect mate that they never settle down; the procrastinator; the finicky person; and so on. Perfectionists tend to be exceptionally sensitive to criticism.

Perfectionists often exhibit some or all of the following personality traits: emotional guardedness; a need for control; fear of making mistakes or errors; thrift; need to be above criticism; tendency to be stubborn or confrontational; and so on. Most of these traits are used as criteria to diagnose Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD).

Perfectionism is one of the 16 Personality Factors identified by Raymond Cattell, and its descriptors of High Range are "organized, compulsive, self-disciplined, socially precise, exacting will power, control, self-sentimental". In the Big Five personality traits, perfectionism is an extreme of Conscientiousness and can provoke increasing Neuroticism as the perfectionist's expectations are not met.

Stoeber & Otto (2006) recently reviewed the various definitions and measures of perfectionism. They found that perfectionism comprised two main dimensions: perfectionistic strivings and perfectionistic concerns. Perfectionistic strivings are associated with positive aspects and perfectionistic concerns with negative aspects (see below). Healthy perfectionists rate high in perfectionistic strivings and low in perfectionistic concerns, whereas unhealthy perfectionists rate highly in both strivings and concerns.[5]

Personality type

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 hyper-critical of others, seeking the illusion of virtue to hide their own vices. The greatest fear of Perfectionists is to be flawed and their ultimate goal is perfection.[6]


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."[7]

Slaney found that adaptive perfectionists had lower levels of procrastination than non-perfectionists. High-achieving athletes, scientists, and artists often show signs of perfectionism. For example, Michelangelo's perfectionism may have spurred him to create masterpieces such as the statue David and the Sistine Chapel. Perfectionism is associated with giftedness in children.

Negative aspects

In its pathological form, perfectionism can be very damaging. It can take the form of procrastination when it is used to postpone tasks ("I can't start my project until I know the 'right' way to do it."), and self-deprecation when it is used to excuse poor performance or to seek sympathy and affirmation from other people ("I can't believe I don't know how to reach my own goals. I must be stupid; how else could I not be able to do this?").

In the workplace, perfectionism is often marked by low productivity as individuals lose time and energy on small irrelevant details of larger projects or mundane daily activities. This can lead to depression, alienated colleagues, and a greater risk of accidents.[8] Adderholt-Elliot (1989) describes five characteristics of perfectionist students and teachers which contribute to underachievement: procrastination, fear of failure, the all-or-nothing mindset, paralysed perfectionism, and workaholism.[9] In intimate relationships, unrealistic expectations can cause significant dissatisfaction for both partners.[10] Perfectionists may sacrifice family and social activities in the quest for their goals.

Perfectionists can suffer anxiety and low self-esteem. Perfectionism is a risk factor for obsessive compulsive personality disorder, eating disorders, social anxiety, social phobia, workaholism, self harm, and clinical depression as well as physical problems like chronic stress, adrenal exhaustion and heart disease.[citation needed]

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.

See also


  1. ^ Parker, W. D.; Adkins, K. K. (1994), "Perfectionism and the gifted", Roeper Review 17 (3): 173–176 
  2. ^ Hewitt, P.; Flett, G. (1991), "Dimensions of Perfectionism in Unipolar Depression", Journal of Abnormal Psychology 100 (1): 98–101, doi:10.1037/0021-843X.100.1.98, 
  3. ^ Slaney, R. (1996, September), The Almost Perfect Definition,, retrieved 2008-04-17 
  4. ^ Mallinger, A.; DeWyze, J. (1992), Too Perfect: When Being in Control Gets Out of Control, New York: Fawcett Columbine 
  5. ^ Stoeber, J.; Otto, K. (2006), "Positive conceptions of perfectionism: Approaches, evidence, challenges", Personality and Social Psychology Review 10 (4): 295–319, doi:10.1207/s15327957pspr1004_2 
  6. ^ Daniels, M.D., D.; Price, PhD, V. (2000), The Essential Enneagram, New York: HarperCollins 
  7. ^ Roedell, W.C. (1984), "Vulnerabilities of highly gifted children", Roeper Review 6 (3): 127–130 
  8. ^ Psychology Today (1995, May), "Perfectionism: Impossible Dream", Psychology Today, 
  9. ^ Adderholt-Elliot, M. (1989), "Perfectionism and underachievement", Gifted Child Today 12 (1): 19–21 
  10. ^ # Allen, C. (2003, May), "The Perfectionist's Flawed Marriage", Psychology Today, 

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