Dr. Mai Rizk
Perfectionism, is it something that's good or bad?
What is Perfectionism?
Cons of Perfectionism
Perfectionism within everyday
Pros of Perfectionism
Perfectionism is often regarded as a personality trait that is undesirable in most areas in life, especially as it pertains to social relationships and even to some extent professional relationships (Benson, 2014). Although professional relationships often admire perfectionists and their ability to go above and beyond what is required of them, it can also lead to overwhelming stress and unnecessary conflicts. Perfectionists believe that people do not need nor deserve second chances if they try their best at something. The inherent problem with this statement is perfection is hard to come by and when feeling are involved, perfection is almost or completely non-existent.
Perfection is limited and interpretation of situations is subjective. Therefore it is best to give people second chances in order to allow one's self not only a better relationship with the individual or group, but also to mature emotionally as a human being. I myself agree that perfectionism is a pointless burden because it generates too much stress and standards that most cannot meet. (In fact most psychologists and sociologists see perfectionists develop obsessive compulsive disorder and neuroticism because of their attempt at being perfect, like it is just in human nature to be perfect. A good example is Gwyneth Paltrow) Yes, people should aim to be the best they can be, but there should always be room for error as even machines make mistakes.
II. What is Perfectionism?
The term perfectionism is defined in psychology as a personality trait characterized by an individual's need to aim for flawlessness through setting impossibly high standards related to various areas in life like beauty, job performance, and so forth. Along with these actions comes an overwhelming need to critically evaluate the self as well as worries over other's assessments. It is regarded as a multidimensional characteristic that psychologists view as having both negative and positive aspects. The negative aspects of perfectionism drive people towards stress through attempts at achieving impossible ideals or goals. This is known as the maladaptive form. The adaptive form of perfectionism helps an individual motivate him/herself to reach his/her objectives enabling progress and success in the individual's life. Because perfectionism is so goal oriented in its nature and positive feelings are thus associated with accomplishing the goals set forth, when goals are not accomplished, perfectionists can sometimes fall into depression "In addition, Hierarchical regression analyses provided partial support for the diathesis-stress model, that is, socially prescribed perfectionism interacted with daily hassles to predict concurrent suicide potential even after controlling for depression, hopelessness, and prior suicide attempt" (Hewitt, Caelian, Chen & Flett, 2014, p. 663).
Furthermore, perfectionism can be damaging to a person's self-esteem in its pathological form. It can be damaging in many ways. For instance, if goals are not met, some of the reactions from the perfectionist manifest in procrastination in order to postpone objectives/tasks and self-loathing/depreciation when utilized to dismiss poor performance or in social relationships, seek affirmation and sympathy from others. Perfectionists that fall into the maladaptive form of perfectionism constantly feel the pressure to meet their own self-imposed high standards. The pressure generates cognitive dissonance because they cannot meet their own objectives, expectations. Several psychological and physiological complications develop from such emotional distress related to maladaptive perfectionism.
III. Cons of Perfectionism
One notoriously well-known complication from perfectionism is depression and suicide. This is because they cannot deal with the stress of having not met their objective and expectations but feel they have to present a "perfect visage" to the world at large in order to at least hide their growing imperfections. Because of this need to maintain a perfect image, they often do not seek help for their emotional turmoil and end up being at higher risk for suicide. Perfectionists are sometimes those people that look like they live the perfect life when in reality it's all just a mask hiding tremendous pain and despair. "Together, these findings suggest that socially prescribed perfectionism acts as a vulnerability factor that is predictive of suicide potential or risk among clinically depressed adolescents (Hewitt, Caelian, Chen & Flett, 2014, p. 663).
Another commonly associated psychological complication with perfectionism is obsessive compulsive disorder. "Theorists have linked perfectionism with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) for nearly a century. The association has been suggested by authors from diverse theoretical perspectives including psychoanalytic and cognitive behavioral...
91). This mental illness manifests because of the anxiety of not meeting the perfect standards the person places on him or herself. "…a form of perfectionism initiates the development of OCD….early precursors of OCD involved a sense of never having performed actions in exactly the right way. This sense of imperfection leads to…feelings of uncertainty" (Frost & Steketee, 2002, p. 91). Obsessive compulsive disorder can be crippling and can manifest even more intense feelings of perfectionism and perfectionist behavior leading to cyclical cause and effect. Maladaptive perfectionism shows that perfectionism is very unhealthy to most people, especially when carried to the extreme which often happens.
The physiological aspect of maladaptive perfectionism is the laziness and procrastination that comes from the frustration of not being able to meet goals and expectations. A good example is of a female perfectionist who strives to maintain what is perceived to be a "perfect" weight of 110 lbs. On a five foot, ten inch frame. She tries to eat less and then ultimately starts binging. She sees the weight on the scale go up and finally relinquishes her objective. Feeling guilty from not meeting her standards, she continues to gain weight and ends up 300 lbs. (Instances of this have happened in individuals that are perfectionists which is why it is more negative than positive to be a perfectionist and to strive for such high standards.)
IV. Perfectionism within everyday life
Perfectionism appears in all areas of everyday life. It can appear in organization, writing, aesthetics and neatness, physical appearance, and even personal and health cleanliness. Although people may perceive perfectionism as being useful in other areas like the workplace, that is not always the case. Perfectionist may get so caught up with irrelevant details, that they ignore their main tasks and often fail to meet deadline, and therefore generating low productivity. This can also lead to social alienation and again, depression as well as "workplace incidents." "According to the perfectionism social disconnection model (PSDM), perfectionism leads to social disconnection (e.g., isolation, loneliness, and alienation) which brings about depressive symptoms" (Sherry et al., 2012, p. 370).
Even those that do meet deadline and are able to clear objectives may end up working themselves to the point of exhaustion as some of the characteristics associated with perfectionism especially in the maladaptive form is fear of failure and workaholic behavior. Furthermore, since perfectionists often require a more structured and task oriented environment, their fear of failure and self-placed excessive pressure can lead to inflexibility and inability to adapt to possible problems or changes. Inflexibility and inability to handle change frequently leads to extreme acts such as violence and even murder as some cases of perfectionism have led to murder suicides in domestic households. People who are perfectionists sometimes feel like they cannot turn to anyone for help and thus attempt to solve their problems on their own. "Correlational analyses showed that depression was associated with socially prescribed perfectionism, internalized emotion-oriented coping, avoidant-oriented distancing, and low family support and peer support" (Flett, Druckman, Hewitt & Wekerle, 2011, p. 118).
V. Pros of Perfectionism
People especially within a professional setting like perfectionists and perfectionist behavior because adaptive perfectionism leads to high levels of standards and high productivity. In an article discussing student productivity and procrastination, they associated adaptive perfectionist traits with reduced levels of procrastination and higher levels of self-motivation. "…mediation analyses portrayed students with stronger self-determined motivation as less likely to procrastinate and more likely to achieve higher GPAs because of high personal standards" (Burnam, Komarraju, Hamel & Nadler, 2014, p. 1). Although this is the case for some individuals, the incidence of adaptive perfectionism is far less than instances of maladaptive perfectionism (Pascucci, 2014). However there is a place for perfectionism in professional settings, especially in the business sector because value is placed on hard work and high standards.
Perfectionists bring to the table a willingness to work beyond normal expectations and see things through to its completion. There is a level of finesse and attention to detail that adaptive perfectionists have that no other types possess. Because of this, many of these people are often successful and well liked within society. They have the energy and the drive to do what is necessary and accomplish what is thought to be impossible. They are often the refiners of society, seeking to better what is made or make something that betters what already exists.
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