Perfectionists have a reputation for getting things done, doing it right the first time, and, despite having obsessive Type A personalities, are often the first people called when a problem arises. In a time where busy is glamorized and the pressure to be successful is becoming more intense, being a perfectionist is practically demanded. While perfectionism is often worn as a badge of honor to wave boastfully in front of future employers, it isn't always the personality advantage people make it out to be.

Perfectionist Pitfalls

Psychologists, Paul Hewitt and Gorden Flett, have pulled the veil off of the darker sides of perfectionism. Their studies have found a link between this obsessive personality trait and mental and physical health issues. Those with perfectionist behaviors were linked to depression, anxiety, drug addiction, and an increased suicide risk. Risk of death was also increased by 51%, due to high levels of stress. This kind of pressure to perform can also have physical consequences. Perfectionists were shown to be more susceptible to asthma, migraines, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Is Being a Perfectionist All Bad?

In general, 30% of the population suffer from perfectionism, but not all perfectionists are created equal. A study done in 1978 split the idea of "perfectionism" into two categories: normal and neurotic, where normal perfectionists were satisfied with the pursuit of improvement alone, while those who were neurotic depended on impossible standards to achieve happiness.

More recent research has supported these findings. In a study done by Patricia A. Schuler that observed gifted adolescents in a rural middle school, perfectionists were divided by healthy and dysfunctional behaviors. Perfectionist tendencies were viewed as a positive force in relationships with parents and families for those who were healthy perfectionists. On the other hand, those deemed as dysfunctional perfectionists expressed a strain in their personal relationships.

Are You a Healthy or Dysfunctional Perfectionist?

So, how can you tell the difference between someone who strives for excellence and someone with a serious perfectionist complex? Those who sway towards an unhealthy perfectionist lifestyle typically display the following qualities:

  • They don't know the difference between "should" and "must": Both healthy and dysfunctional perfectionists are acutely aware of ideal outcomes of a given situation. Dysfunctional perfectionists, however, are not satisfied until the best possible results are met. Healthy perfectionists are better at letting things go.
  • They break their life down into categories: Everything is black and white for neurotic perfectionists, which means that it is difficult for them to see any positive sides to a negative situation. Because of this, they have a tendency to be pessimistic and hold on to grudges.
  • They have a tendency to self deprecate, procrastinate, and be timid: Unhealthy perfectionists believe that everything demands perfection. Because of this, they will often avoid actions or activities out of fear of not reaching impossible standards.

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Date of original publication:

Updated: November 10, 2015