Understanding Perfectionism: The Psychology of a Perfectionist

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To stop perfectionism from affecting your productivity, you have to understand it. You need to know which type of perfectionist you are plus the possible reasons why you act the way you do. This way, you can know which tips for overcoming unhealthy perfectionism work for you and those that don’t. Let’s get started learning the psychology of a perfectionist.

Types of perfectionist

Most psychology experts agree that there are three forms of perfectionists. These were discovered after extensive research on dimensions of perfectionism led by psychologists Hewitt and Flett. These three types of perfectionism include:

Self-oriented perfectionist

This is a “perfectionist motivation” from within where people strive to achieve perfection as a result of holding high standards for themselves. If you’re a self-oriented perfectionist, you likely:

  • Feel highly uncomfortable seeing errors in your work.
  • Feel the need to maximize your potential at all times.
  • Hold yourself to high standards.
  • Are driven by self-motivation.
Perfectionism Self Oriented

Other-oriented perfectionist

This type manifests in people who expect others to seek perfection in things they do and generally criticize and judge them on anything below their expectations. If you’re an other-oriented perfectionist:

  • You don’t like delegating work for fear of it being done imperfectly.
  • You fret about how others are doing things wrong often.

Socially-prescribed perfectionism

This is the type that comes from external pressure where one thinks they need to be perfect to achieve the expectations others have on them. Commonly, they end up frustrated by the incapability to live according to other people’s standards, developing anxiety, and other productivity-ruining problems.

Perfectionism Socially Prescribed

If you’re a socially-prescribed perfectionist:

  • You often find yourself overwhelmed by the many external expectations you’re trying to meet.
  • When justifying your perfectionism, you often find yourself saying things like, “My friends expect me to look perfect,” “My family wants me to get this right,” “My boyfriend/girlfriend likes my hair to look perfect always.”
  • You always strive to be acceptable to the society.
  • In case the world stops watching, you would drop most perfectionist standards you hold.

Looking at the psychology of it, which perfectionist are you? And whatever form it is, where did it stem from?

How People Pick Up Perfectionist Tendencies

What has led you to perfectionist tendencies? What triggers the need to be perfect?

Perfectionism How People Develop Perfectionism

Commonly, perfectionist tendencies are a result of these causes:

  • High expectations from parents: if your parents incessantly pushed you to be perfect, it’s easy to develop unhealthy extents of the behavior.
  • Self-criticism based on the strengths of other siblings: while we’re all uniquely created, your siblings might have been or appeared to be more celebrated than you, so you might strive to be perfect to attract the same response.
  • Excess criticism by abusive parents: some parents think shaming or consistently criticizing their child is an excellent motivation strategy, but instead, it develops unhealthy perfectionism in them.
  • Too much praise of achievements instead of effort: you believe your self-worth is tied to perfecting your results and getting more affection.
  • Feelings of inadequacy: you don’t think you’re good enough, so you strive for perfection to inhibit that feeling. Social media comparison could trigger this, but there are numerous other sources.
  • All or nothing thinking: holding onto the idea that “if everything isn’t perfect, nothing is good enough.”

It’s necessary to know where your perfectionism may be stemming from. The psychology of why you are a perfectionist can help you respond better to some triggers and strive for a healthy balance of productivity instead of perfection. To understand how perfectionism relates to productivity, check out how striving for perfect results kills productivity.

Ade Kiseu

Ade is a health & wellness freelance writer for individuals as well as organizations mainly in the mental health industry. She loves exploring self-improvement, practicing smarter ways of working and living.