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Perfectionism

Multiple definitions of perfectionism have been offered including:
  • “Those whose standards are high beyond reach or reason, people who strain compulsively and unremittingly towards impossible goals and who measure their own worth entirely in terms of productivity and accomplishment. For these people, the effort for excellence is self-defeating.” (Burns, 1980).
  • “Setting of excessively high standards for performance accompanied by overly critical self-evaluation” (Frost, Marten, Lahart, & Rosenblate, 1990)
Motivated by the hope that it could lead to the development of effective intervention Shafran, Cooper, and Fairburn (2002) offered their own description of clinical perfectionism as “The overdependence of self-evaluation on the determined pursuit of personally demanding self-imposed standards in at least one highly salient domain despite adverse consequences.” Shafran, Coughtrey, and Kothari (2011) argue that perfectionism can be problematic because:
  • it is associated with practical difficulties and negative emotional consequences, causing procrastination and anxiety;
  • it is associated with a range of disorders including obsessive compulsive disorder, social anxiety, panic, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, chronic fatigue, depression, bipolar, and suicidal ideation and behavior;
  • it may impede the treatment of such disorders;
  • it increases the risk of developing eating disorders and depression.
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Cognitive Behavioral Model Of Anorexia Nervosa (2003)

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by restriction of energy intake and intense fear of gaining weight. For women, the lifetime preva ... https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/cognitive-behavioral-model-of-anorexia-nervosa-2003/

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Cognitive Behavioral Model Of Bulimia Nervosa (2003)

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by binge eating followed by purging. Among young women, the point prevalence of bulimia is about 1 ... https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/cognitive-behavioral-model-of-bulimia-nervosa-2003/

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Process Focused Case Formulation

The Process-Focused Case Formulation encourages clinicians to make hypotheses regarding mechanisms or processes which they believe may be maintainin ... https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/process-focused-case-formulation/

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Recognizing Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is characterized the restriction of energy intake, leading to a severely low weight in the context of an individual’s age, sex, and ... https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/recognizing-anorexia-nervosa/

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Recognizing Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating and compensatory behaviors to prevent weight gain. Recognizing Bulimia Nervosa ... https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/recognizing-bulimia-nervosa/

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Transdiagnostic Cognitive Behavioral Model Of Eating Disorders (2003)

Fairburn, Cooper & Shafran (2003) argue that eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia share common maintenance mechanisms despite difference ... https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/transdiagnostic-cognitive-behavioral-model-of-eating-disorders-2003/

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What Is Perfectionism?

Disorders That Are Associated with Perfectionism, or in Which Perfectionism Is Elevated

Perfectionism is thought to contribute to be associated with or elevated in:

  • obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • social anxiety disorder
  • panic disorder
  • generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)
  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • eating disorders
  • depression
  • bipolar disorder
  • suicidal ideation and behavior

Helpful Questions for Assessing Perfectionism

Some helpful questions for assessing perfectionism:

  • Have you ever kept trying to meet your standards, even if this has meant that you have missed out on things?
  • What sorts of situations trigger feelings of distress when your standards are not met?
  • What do you think of people who do just enough to get by?
  • Do you ever feel a failure as a person because you haven’t met your goals?
  • Have you ever been told that your standards are too high?
  • In what ways do you compare yourself to others? How do you typically feel?
  • What kinds of domains must you be perfect in?
  • Are there any ways that perfectionism has been rewarded or praised in your life?

Treatment Approaches That Target Perfectionism

Shafran, Egan, and Wade (2010) published a cognitive behavioral model of perfectionism in which an individual’s self-worth is overly dependent on striving and achievement. They propose that this is maintained by both (1) revision of standards as insufficiently demanding when they are met, and (2) counterproductive behaviors and self-criticism when they are not met. There have been a number of small published studies that have examined the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy for the treatment of perfectionism, which show promisingly large effect sizes (e.g., Riley, Lee, Cooper, Fairburn, & Shafran, 2007; Steele & Wade, 2008).

References

  • Burns, D. D. (1980). The perfectionist script for self-defeat. Psychology Today, November, 34–52.
  • Frost, R. O., Marten, P., Lahart, C., & Rosenblate, R. (1990). The dimensions of perfectionism. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 14(5), 449–468.
  • Riley, C., Lee, M., Cooper, Z., Fairburn, C. G., & Shafran, R. (2007). A randomised controlled trial of cognitive-behaviour therapy for clinical perfectionism: A preliminary study. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45(9), 2221–2231.
  • Shafran, R., Cooper, Z., & Fairburn, C. G. (2002). Clinical perfectionism: A cognitive–behavioural analysis. Behaviour Research and Therapy40(7), 773-791.
  • Shafran, R., Coughtrey, A., & Kothari, R. (2016). New frontiers in the treatment of perfectionism. International Journal of Cognitive Therapy9(2), 156-170.
  • Shafran, R., Egan, S., & Wade, T. (2018). Overcoming perfectionism: A self-help guide using scientifically supported cognitive behaviouraltechniques(2nd ed.). London: Robinson.
  • Steele, A. L., & Wade, T. D. (2008). A randomised trial investigating guided self-help to reduce perfectionism and its impact on bulimia nervosa: A pilot study. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 46(12), 1316–1323.