Perfectionism in psychology is a personality trait which always strives to attain perfection and nothing short of it. Perfection is, in fact, a utopian concept with no clear definition. It varies for different people. And people experience varying degrees of perfectionism. It has adaptive and maladaptive forms. Adaptive perfectionists have perfectionistic strivings and they want to move towards perfection. Whereas maladaptive people have perfectionistic concerns and are more neurotic in nature. Failing to achieve unrealistic goals reduces their self-esteem.

There are different scales to measure perfectionism. Frost Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale measures six dimensions. Other scales are Almost Perfect Scale and Physical Appearance Perfectionism Scale. Almost Perfect Scale has three measures, namely higher standards, order and discrepancy. Physical Appearance Perfectionism Scale has two subscales, namely ‘Worry about Imperfection’ and ‘Hope for Perfection’. Some people are self-oriented perfectionists, some other-oriented and some are socially prescribed perfectionists. Perfectionism may be exhibited in one domain or different domains of life.

There are different causes of perfectionism. The most common cause is a troubled childhood. The parents may be perfectionists and force that on kids. The notion that success and perfection are the only ways to get love is deep-rooted in their minds. Sometimes kids’ relationship with parents will be strained. Pursuing perfection fetches them good results and acceptance among others. Eventually, they become perfectionists. Media also plays an important role. This is especially true with perfectionism related to physical appearance.

Perfectionism also has some positive effects. Many successful and famous people have been perfectionists. Michael Jackson, Kubrick, Steve Jobs, etc. some of the famous perfectionists. The perfectionistic trait also has a role to play in the quality of their work. Adaptive perfectionism is more related to conscientiousness. Adaptive perfectionists are hard workers, organized and are always motivated to do the best. They produce good quality work. This is good for their career. Students showing adaptive perfectionistic traits score more in college. They are energized and determined to excel. They often submit the best assignments and projects. Perfectionism related to health and physical appearance prompts them to exercise, eat and sleep right regularly.

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But often the urge to be perfect becomes too much that maladaptive perfectionism results. Maladaptive perfectionism is related to neuroticism. In the workplace, they continue doing the same task until their perceived level of perfection is reached. They can’t delegate even a minor task. This results in long working hours. They won’t be able to concentrate on many important tasks. ‘Other people-oriented’ perfectionists make a fuss over small mistakes of the teammates. They don’t get many things done and put the entire team in jeopardy.

Maladaptive perfectionists have a fear of failure. They will be able to start work only if 100% success is ensured and all the things are in place. Procrastination affects the studies of such students negatively. The need for perfection is so much that even a small mistake is considered as a failure. Students experience stress, anxiety and depression due to the unrealistic expectations.

Perfectionism is also a cause of troubled relationships. They expect the partners also to be perfect and are often very demanding. Kids are also brought up in such a way that they end up believing that love and acceptance are related to success and perfection. Kids lose their individuality. Perfectionists can’t communicate their emotions properly due to their belief that everything must be dealt with by themselves.

Due to the anxiety and stress, perfectionists experience many physical and mental disorders. Fatigue, high blood pressure, IBS and even heart diseases result. The pressure to look physically perfect is high among the youth. They experience eating disorders and anorexia. Many people resort to unhealthy aesthetic procedures.

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Maladaptive perfectionism is also about ‘all or nothing’ attitude. If an approach can’t solve a problem completely, they reject that. This makes them bad at problem-solving in organizations. Eating a cookie once will be considered as a failure from which there is no way back. They will end up binge eating for many more days.

If maladaptive perfectionism is managed, these individuals can become highly successful and happy in their lives. Friends, family and colleagues can help these people. Professional help from psychologists and counselors can be sought.

This is especially true with teen college students. Psychologists adopt different methods to deal with these conditions. Students are encouraged to take up activities which were discarded due to the fear of failure. The importance of self-compassion and the need to embrace oneself is communicated. The fear of constant judgment by others grips them. Most of the therapies are aimed at removing this. Studies show that the suicide rate among college students is increasing. This has a lot to do with unrealistic expectations from parents and society. Timely help can really save them.

In the workplace, they should not be always reminded of the deadlines and goals. They should be encouraged to take up outdoor activities. Psychologists insist that work should be marked complete when it is good enough. Spending extra hours seeking perfection in everything is inconsequential.

One method used by the psychologist is asking them to deliberately submit work with minor imperfections. They are then asked to analyze the after effect of that. Continuing these exercises will help them to realize that minor mistakes and incompleteness don’t even come in the big picture. They can better spend that time with family or taking care of their health.

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Establishing frequent communication with maladaptive perfectionists is very important. They should be made aware that their actions often impact others negatively. It is very important for the partners and immediate family to communicate with them genuinely. They should be encouraged to see things from others perspective.

Perfectionism may be necessary for success in a field like athletics. Perfectionistic striving may bring success to many people. But perfectionistic concerns are very damaging. Perfection is not needed to be excellent. Perfect things aren’t always the most useful and perfectionism doesn’t always bring satisfaction and happiness.

Would you like to read more about this topic? This book might interest you: Introduction to Perfectionism.