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For the philosophical persistence of will see: Perfectionism (philosophy)

Perfectionism, in psychology, is a personality trait characterised by a persisting belief that perfection should be strived for. In its pathological form, it is an unhealthy belief that anything less than perfect is unacceptable.


Hamachek (cited by Parker & Adkins 1994) 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 good enough to warrant that feeling". Burns (also in Parker & Adkins 1994) 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]

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.[1] Today researchers largely agree that these two basic types of perfectionism are distinct.[2] 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.[3] 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).[4]

Perfectionistic strivings vs. perfectionistic concerns

Stoeber and Otto (2006) stated that perfectionism consisted of two main dimensions: perfectionistic strivings and perfectionistic concerns.[3] Perfectionistic strivings are associated with positive aspects of perfectionism, whereas perfectionistic concerns are associated with negative aspects (see below). Healthy perfectionists yielded high scores in perfectionistic strivings and low in perfectionistic concerns, whereas unhealthy perfectionists yielded high scores in both strivings and concerns.[3] As expected, nonperfectionists demonstrated low levels of perfectionistic strivings.[3] Prompted by earlier research providing empirical evidence that perfectionism could be associated with positive aspects (specifically perfectionist strivings),[5] they challenged the widespread belief that perfectionism is only detrimental. In fact, people with high levels of perfectionist strivings and low levels of perfectionist concerns demonstrated more self-esteem, agreeableness, academic success, and social interaction.[3] This type of perfectionist also showed fewer psychological and somatic issues typically associated with perfectionism, namely depression, anxiety, and maladaptive coping styles.[3]

Perfectionism has also been defined as a unitary combination of a desire to be perfect, a fear of imperfection, and an emotional conviction that perfection (not "near-perfection") is the only route to personal acceptance by others.[6] Perfectionism itself is thus never seen as healthy or adaptive.[6] Greenspon also makes a distinction between perfectionism and striving for excellence.[6][7][8][9] The difference is in the meaning given to mistakes. Those who strive—however intently—for excellence can simply take mistakes (imperfections) as incentive to work harder. Unhealthy perfectionists consider their mistakes a sign of personal defects. For these individuals, anxiety about potential failure is the reason perfectionism is felt as a burden.

Hewitt and 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 high in Standards and Order, but maladaptive perfectionists also rate high in Anxiety and Procrastination[3].

Perfectionism is one of the 16 Personality Factors identified by Raymond Cattell. It may be related to Conscientiousness and Neuroticism in the Big Five personality traits.


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.[10] Self-oriented perfectionism is having irrational expectations and standards for oneself that lead to a perfectionistic motivation.[11] An example is the constant desire to achieve an ideal physical appearance out of vanity. Other-orientated 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 nonperfectionists.[12] 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.[12] Maladaptive perfectionists typically yield the highest social stress and anxiety scores, reflecting their feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.[2] 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.[2] Interestingly, in one study evaluating APS-R in an adolescent population, maladaptive perfectionists obtained higher satisfaction scores than nonperfectionists. This finding suggests that adolescents' high standards may protect them from challenges to personal satisfaction when their standards are not met.[2] 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.[4] The PAPS is a multidimensional assessment of physical appearance perfectionism that provides the most insight when the sub-scales are evaluated separately.[4] 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.[4] 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.[4] They also demonstrate low positive self-perceptions of their appearance, whereas those scoring highly on Hope for Perfection yielded high positive self-perceptions.[4] 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.[4]

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.[13]

Perfectionism can be associated with various mental disorders, particularly depression, anxiety, OCD, and eating disorders. However, each disorder has varying levels of the three measurements.[11] 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.[14]

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.[15] 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.[15]

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."[16]

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.[17]

Exceptionally talented individuals 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."[18] 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 strive for excellence, and conscientious orientation to tasks and performance.[19] All of these characteristics are accompanied by low criticism and negativity, and high support and self-esteem.[19] 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).[19]

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.

General applications

In the workplace, perfectionism is often marked by low productivity as individuals 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."[20] 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.[21] In intimate relationships, unrealistic expectations can cause significant dissatisfaction for both partners.[22] Greenspon lists behaviors, thoughts, and feelings that typically characterize perfectionism.[8] Perfectionists will not be content with their work until it meets their standards, which can make perfectionists less efficient in finish projects and therefore 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.[23] Because their success is frequently measured by an 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 individuals with perfectionism have a higher mortality rate than those without perfectionism.[24] 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.[6]

Personality traits

Perfectionism is one of Raymond Cattell's 16 Personality Factors.[25] 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.[25]

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.[19]


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),[26] humanistic therapy (person-centered therapy where the positive aspects are highlighted), and self-therapy (personal time for the individual where journaling, self-disciple, self-monitoring, and honesty with self are essential). Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been shown to successfully help perfectionists.

  1. REDIRECT Template:Fact
By using this approach, the individual can begin to recognize their irrational thinking and find an alternative way to approach situations. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is intended help the individual to understand that it is okay to make mistakes sometimes and that those mistakes can be lessons learned.

See also


  1. Hamachek, D. E. (1978), "Psychodynamics of normal and neurotic perfectionism", Psychology 15: 27–33 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Rice, Kenneth G., Ashby, Jeffrey S., Gilman, Rich (2011). Classifying adolescent perfectionists. Psychological Assessment 23 (3): 563–577.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Stoeber, Joachim, Otto, Kathleen (2006). Positive Conceptions of Perfectionism: Approaches, Evidence, Challenges. Personality and Social Psychology Review 10 (4): 295–319.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Yang, Hongfei, Stoeber, Joachim (2012). The Physical Appearance Perfectionism Scale: Development and Preliminary Validation. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment 34 (1): 69–83.
  5. Frost, R. O.; Heimburg, R. G.; Holt, C. S.; Mattia, J. I.; Neubauer, A. A. (1993), "A comparison of two measures of perfectionism", Personality and Individual Differences 14: 469–489 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 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.
  7. Greenspon, T.S. (2007)What to do when good enough isn’t good enough: The real deal on perfectionism. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Greenspon, T.S. (2002) Freeing Our Families From Perfectionism. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing.
  9. 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.
  10. 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, PMID 2005279, 
  11. 11.0 11.1 The Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale: Reliability, validity, and psychometric properties in psychiatric samples. URL accessed on March 22, 2012.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Slaney, R.B.; Rice, K.G.; Mobley, M.; Trippi, J.; Ashby, J.S. (2001), "The Revised Almost Perfect Scale", Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development 34 (3): 130–145, 
  13. Daniels, M.D., D.; Price, PhD, V. (2000), The Essential Enneagram, New York: HarperCollins 
  14. Hewitt, P. L., Flett, G., Ediger, E. (1995). Perfectionism traits and perfectionist self-presentation in eating disorder attitudes, characteristics, and symptoms.. International Journal of Eating Disorders 18: 317-326.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Mallinger, A.; DeWyze, J. (1992), Too Perfect: When Being in Control Gets Out of Control, New York: Fawcett Columbine 
  16. Roedell, W.C. (1984), "Vulnerabilities of highly gifted children", Roeper Review 6 (3): 127–130, doi:10.1080/02783198409552782 
  17. Neimark, Jill (May 2007), "The Optimism Revolution", Psychology Today: 1–3,, retrieved on July 1, 2011. 
  18. Brett, Bill Are They Too Perfect?. Boston Globe. URL accessed on 12 May 2012.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 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.
  20. Psychology Today (1995, May), "Perfectionism: Impossible Dream", Psychology Today, 
  21. Adderholt-Elliot, M. (1989), "Perfectionism and underachievement", Gifted Child Today 12 (1): 19–21 
  22. Allen, C. (2003, May), "The Perfectionist's Flawed Marriage", Psychology Today, 
  23. The Downside of Perfectionism in Sports. Sports Psychology Today. URL accessed on 12 May 2012.
  24. Being a Perfectionist Can take toll on health. URL accessed on March 22, 2012.
  25. 25.0 25.1 Cattell, H.; Mead, A. (2008), "The Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF)", The SAGE Handbook of Personality Theory and Assessment 2: 135–159 
  26. Types of Therapy. URL accessed on March 22, 2012.

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