background of the Construct
The psychological construct of perfectionism has been addressed in psychological theories of personality and psychopathology since long time ago. The construct was characterized by exacting standards, meticulous living, and unfulfilled expectations (Horney,
1950) and as irrational and dysfunctional, highlighted by the catastrophic nature of failing to meet unrealistic standards
(Ellis, 1962), and the
all-or-nothing attitude in which
falling short of expectations is interpreted as a failure (Beck, 1976).
Perfectionists are preoccupied with fear of failure and
disapproval, and if they experience failure and disappointment, become
dysfunctionally depressed (Hollender, 1965).
They are strive to meet very high standards in everything they do, and pursue
unrealistically high goals across any domains, be it in the workplace, in
sport, cooking, etc (Hewitt & Flett, 1991).
There are two forms of perfectionism: adaptive and
maladaptive. The idea of adaptive and maladaptive
forms of perfectionism emerged as
the striving for perfection and superiority was portrayed
as a basic human drive necessary for
adaptation, but this striving
for perfection could also take on pathological properties if the perfection of the self took precedence over social interest (Adler, 1956).
This distinction is clarified by the source of the
motivation to perform; a maladaptive fear of failure compared to an adaptive desire for improvement (Hamachek, 1978). According to Burns (1980) adaptive is the healthy
pursuit of excellence, quality
work, and true accomplishment and on
the other hand maladaptive is the compulsive striving and self-defeating drive to meet impossible expectations.
The Dual Process Model of Perfectionism made a distinction
between the pursuit of success,
excellence, approval, and satisfaction; and the avoidance of failure,
mediocrity, disapproval, and dissatisfaction (Slade
& Owens, 1998). Based on Frost & DiBartolo
(2002) perfectionism has been identified as one of the six domains of
obsessive- compulsive disorder (OCD), and both clinical and nonclinical
populations have demonstrated significantly higher levels of perfectionism
(Frost & Steketee, 1997). Higher levels of depression have been found to be
associated with higher levels of self-oriented and socially prescribed
perfectionism from the Hewitt and Flett Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale
(Hewitt & Flett, 1991).
The Frost and colleagues conceptualization focused on
the intrapersonal dimensions of perfectionism while the Hewitt and Flett focused on the interpersonal dimensions (Parker
& Adkins, 1995).
Based on the multidimensional approach
of the Frost and colleagues (1990) theory some important dimensions are identified: (a) excessively high standards;
(b) the level of concern
over mistakes; (c) a sense of
doubt about the quality of one’s performance; (d) concern over
parent’s expectations and evaluations; and (e) an
overemphasis on precision, order, and organization.
The Hewitt and Flett conceptualization added
interpersonal dimensions to previous unidimensional self-directed approach. The
conceptualization is made up of three dimensions: (a) self-oriented
perfectionism, (b) other-oriented perfectionism, and (c) socially prescribed perfectionism, each of which is
characterized not by differences in behaviors or cognitions but in the object
of the perfectionism. Self-oriented perfectionism describes the exacting
standards and excessive critical evaluation of one’s performance.
Other-oriented perfectionism describes the same high standards and criticism
directed at others. Socially prescribed perfectionism describes the perceptions
that significant others have unrealistic standards for them, are overly
critical, and pressure them to be perfect.
(Hewitt & Flett, 1991)
There is an ongoing
debate between the dimensional approach of Hewitt
and Flett (Flett & Hewitt, 2006) and the group
(i.e., positive and negative) approaches (Slade
& Owens, 1998). Flett and Hewitt (2006) have questioned the existence of positive perfectionism and stated their belief
that the term, “perfectionist,”
should be used only for individuals who rigidly hold to their
standards even though the situation
does not call for perfection,
and who continue to set
unreasonably high standard in several life domains.
There is a new conceptual model that integrates these
approaches. From the dimensional approaches a distinction has emerged between
perfectionistic strivings (e.g., striving for excellence) and
perfectionistic concerns (e.g.,
worry about making a mistake),
whereas the group approach divides positive and negative perfectionists. In this model,
perfectionists and non-perfectionists can be identified by the presence of any
perfectionistic strivings. The differentiation between positive and negative perfectionists is made using
the level of perfectionistic concerns. Perfectionistic concerns are
characterized by rigid and inflexible concern over mistakes, doubts about
actions, evaluation of the discrepancy between achievement and standards,
self-criticism, and a fear of failure. Using this model, adaptive
perfectionists would be high in perfectionistic strivings and low in
perfectionistic concerns while maladaptive or pathological perfectionists would
be high in perfectionistic strivings and concerns (Stoeber & Otto, 2006).
Concerning the issue of adaptive perfectionism,
in 1996, the Almost Perfect Scale (APS) was developed by Slaney and his
colleagues. The intent was to approach the subject with an unbiased perspective
and qualitative methodology to instruct the development of the theory (Slaney
& Ashby, 1996). It identifies three aspects of perfectionism: (a) high standards, (b) order, and (c) discrepancy. The “high
standards” and “order”
dimensions correspond to