Elisha has Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology, as well as a Bachelor's in Marketing. She has extensive experience creating & teaching curricula in college level education, history, English, business and marketing.
Have you ever known someone who has to be perfect? They make sure they don't have one hair out of place, their handwriting is always smooth and slick, and their behavior almost has a plastic quality. These could be signs of perfectionism. Perfectionism does not always have to have a negative connotation, since it can be the impetus needed to strive harder and be stronger. However, just like any behavior, if taken to the extreme, it can cause issues in day to day life, and disrupt relationships and work. There are two different types of perfectionism:
- Adaptive Perfectionism - This type of perfectionism is someone who wants to do their best in everything, works hard, is hard on themselves, but still knows what they do well. They may have high standards, but they are happy when they meet them, instead of setting even more out of reach goals.
- Maladaptive Perfectionism - This version of perfectionism focuses on trying to be perfect and seeing the imperfections of certain actions or situations as a personal blight. This strive to be perfect makes someone set completely unattainable goals, like 'I want to weigh 75 pounds, even though I am very tall'. Then, when those goals are not attained, the person is devastated. The devastation can lead to unhealthy choices, and putting one's mental and physical well being in danger to accomplish these unattainable goals. This type of perfectionism makes someone check their work dozens of times, erasing and changing it until they have no choice but to turn it in. This is the unhealthy extreme of trying to do well and be better than anyone else.
Symptoms of Maladaptive Perfectionism
Now that we see the different types of perfectionism, lets review the symptoms of a maladaptive perfectionist.
Need for control
Due to the ambition to be perfect, maladaptive perfectionism can make people feel the need to control each and every aspect of their life: relationships, work, school, and social interactions. This behavior can come off as aggressive, rude, and manipulative, because the person is determined to make their environment perfect.
People will try to do almost anything to get a positive response from the people that matter. For example, a man at work will start to do other people's work as well as their own so that management will notice his initiative, even if it means he spends too much time at work.
Mountains instead of molehills
Each mistake made seems to be the largest mistake ever made and makes the person feel like they are a personal failure. For example, accidentally burning the rolls that go with dinner makes the whole dinner bad, and they will throw it all away and start over.
Receiving criticism is very hurtful for a maladaptive perfectionist. Where it bothers many people, it is a personal attack on someone who wants to be perfect. So instead of taking the criticism, they argue about the situation, defend their work, and blame everyone else for making it unacceptable.
Additional mental illnesses
Many people who are maladaptive perfectionists also have other contributory issues, such as depression, physical illnesses, eating disorders, and severe anxiety. These issues may have started before or after the perfectionism, but they will make this behavior worse.
People striving for perfectionism in an unhealthy manner can grow so frustrated with not accomplishing their goals that they walk away from them completely. For example, a student in college gets a C on a paper, but still has a B in the course. However, the C was too much, and the student drops out of school and does not go back.
These are extremes of perfectionism and the issues that it can cause if someone struggles with the maladaptive form. So how does one overcome this behavior?
Treatment for Maladaptive Perfectionism
Treatment for perfectionism is different for each person, depending on the severity of the perfectionism and the receptiveness of the individual. One treatment used is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of therapy that teaches patients how their thoughts affect their behaviors, and how to address these thoughts accordingly. For example, someone learns that they strive for perfection because they were brought up by parents they demanded it. Then the patient can try to work on removing that thought from their own demands on themselves.
Another treatment option for some is to address one maladaptive perfectionism behavior at a time. Perhaps they will address their need to make their intimate relationship with their spouse perfect. Taking each behavior one at a time, keeps the issue from being overwhelming. Assessing consequences of those behaviors can help an individual understand that it is not the end of the world. For example, someone who tries to make sure their personal relationship always looks perfect, understanding that the lack of perfection will not make them a pariah, but the pursuit of perfection may end their relationship. This is a process that takes time but can work.
Perfectionism can be an impetus to do better, such as adaptive perfectionism. However, it can also be a constant nagging reminder that someone is not perfect and never will be, which is maladaptive perfectionism. Maladaptive perfectionism can cause symptoms like people pleasing and abandoning projects and people if something is not perfect. Other behavioral issues can also come up like eating disorders or high anxiety if it is not addressed. Treatment for this type of perfectionism is varied, but usually involved cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. CBT is the process of addressing the reasons and thoughts behind the need to be perfect and changing those ideas over time. Additionally, each perfectionist behavior can also be worked on one at a time to give someone time to really analyze each behavior and try to change it without getting overwhelmed.
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Register to view this lesson
Unlock Your Education
See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com
Become a Study.com member and start learning now.Become a Member
Already a member? Log InBack