The term ‘perfectionist‘ is increasingly thrown around as a sort of humble-brag; an uncreative way of telling the people around you that you set extremely high standards for yourself, and do not stop until you achieve them.
In fact, “perfectionism” has become the joke response to the standard interview question, “What’s your greatest weakness?” – because if your worst quality is flawlessness, then surely an employer will hire you on the spot.
But that school of thought, that the perfectionist is hard-working, ambitious and ultimately successful, goes against decades of research in the field of psychology.
Recent developments in the field tell us there are three different types of perfectionism that are as follows:
The self-oriented perfectionist.
Holds oneself to (impossibly) high standards, yet maintains unwavering motivation to achieve perfection. A key incentive is the avoidance of failure. The self-oriented perfectionist engages in comprehensive self-evaluation. They have thoughts, according to research by psychologists P. Hewitt and G. Flett, such as:
“I strive to be as perfect as I can be.”
“I makes me uneasy to see an error in my life.”
“I must work to my full potential at all times.”
“I set very high standards for myself.”
LISTEN: Are Millennials the ultimate perfectionists? Or is there a different explanation? We discuss on Mamamia Out Loud.
The socially-prescribed perfectionist.
Believes strongly that others are holding them to unattainable expectations, and experience extrinsic pressure to be perfect. They believe that those around them are constantly evaluating them critically, and they desperately want to impress them. They have thoughts, according to Psychology Today, such as:
“I find it difficult to meet others’ expectations of me.”
“The people around me expect me to succeed at everything I do.”
“I feel that people are too demanding of me.”