Monday, March 14, 2011

The Development of Perfectionism {Part 2}

I took a break in my series on perfectionism to talk about why I wasn't complaining. If you haven't checked it out yet, you can read it here . While you're at it, if you haven't read Part 1 of the Development of Perfectionism yet, check it out here before going on...then come back here:) So, in the last post on perfectionism, I introduced the idea of the development of perfectionism, I discussed a little about social learning, and the expectations and standards of others.

In Elliot &Hewitt's 2002 book entitled Perfectionism: Theory, Research, and Treatment, they discussed the family environment of perfectionism. Here are some of the things they discovered in the connection between family characteristics and perfectionism:

  • Maternal rejection or shaming behavior
  • Low levels of maternal tolerance and affection
  • Higher levels of parental overprotection & control
  • Shame by those around the person
  • Poor health in the family of origin
  • Low parental care
  • Parental control & perfectionism was also indicated in the development of eating disorders
These characteristics tend to lead to self-oriented perfectionism, instead of some of the characteristics from yesterday, which lead to more others-oriented perfectionism. There are also personal characteristics of the child that tend to lead to implementing more perfectionistic standards in life. These include:
  • Temperament (aspects of a person's personality that are innate, like introversion or extroversion) 
    • "We believe that perfectionists have a temperament that is characterized by high levels of emotionality, including high fearfulness, along with high levels of persistence" (Elliot & Hewitt, 2002, p. 111). 
  • Attachment Style (the way you interact with others in more intimate relationships)
  • Ability of the child to be influenced by those around him or her
  • Personal definitions of success & failure
  • Distorted thinking
  • People Pleaser
It's important to remember that perfectionism doesn't generally develop solely because of one factor. There's usually some mixture of environmental, parental, & personal factors that lead to holding perfectionistic standards in life. Knowing the "why" of perfectionism doesn't necessarily help to change it (you can spend hours in therapy trying to figure out why you are thinking the way you do, or you can spend a little time discussing it, and then dive into challenging and changing those standards), but sometimes it helps us understand that we aren't "just nuts" like we sometimes can believe. 

Ok, this was a very brief, tip of the iceberg, explanation on how perfectionism can develop. Understanding this can help give us some answers to why we are the way that we are, and it can help to inform our behaviors when we raise children of our own. Knowing all of this, we need to start changing how we think and what our standards are, so that we don't remain stuck in the trap of perfectionism.

*you can find the rest of the posts in my series on perfectionism here.

If you struggle with perfectionistic tendencies, can you see anything that might contribute to the development of it in your life? Are you ready to start challenging your thinking?


  1. Great post! It is an eye opener. Thanks!

  2. dropping by from #commenthour

    I'll be back and read it entirely :)

    This is something I want to learn.

  3. The first two on the list hit the nail in my head... alcoholic mother, thus "low parental care," did their work on me. I used to go to Al-Anon and a psychologist there once said, "However much work you do on yourself, it cannot repair the damage that was done early on. You need to learn to adapt and work with what you have; you will never be 'normal,' and trying to achieve that objective is a road of potholes."
    Grief for what I never had, a loving mother, has plagued me for years. When she died, I never went through the same kind of process my best friend did when her mother died. I could not relate.
    This was a helpful posting. Thanks.