York researcher finds that perfectionism can lead to imperfect health

York University psychology Professor Gordon Flett says that perfectionists are prone to health problems because they are under constant stress. In a landmark study, Flett and a team of Canadian researchers have developed a 45-item questionnaire to identify the three types of perfectionists: self-oriented perfectionists (expect perfection of themselves); other-oriented perfectionists (demand perfection from other people); and socially prescribed perfectionists (think others expect perfection from them).

Above: Gordon Flett

The Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale, as it is also known, was just published this week by Multi-Health Systems Inc., based in Toronto. It is the first published scale that focuses specifically on perfectionism from a multidimensional perspective.

According to Flett, who collaborated with University of British Columbia Professor Paul Hewitt, perfectionists are people who not only hold unrealistically high standards but also judge themselves or others as always falling short. “Perfectionism is the need to be – or to appear – perfect,” said Flett. “Perfectionists are persistent, detailed and organized high achievers. Perfectionists vary in their behaviours: some strive to conceal their imperfections; others attempt to project an image of perfection. But all perfectionists have in common extremely high standards for themselves or for others.”

Moreover, Flett, who is the Canada Research Chair in Personality and Health, adds that certain forms of perfectionism can be linked to a host of emotional, physical and relationship problems, including depression, eating disorders, marital discord and even suicide. “Perfectionism is not officially recognized as a psychiatric disorder. However extreme forms of perfectionism should be considered an illness similar to narcissism, obsessive compulsiveness, dependent-personality disorder and other personality disorders because of its links to distress and dysfunction.”

For instance, a 1994 experiment with 30 preschoolers at a computer camp in Toronto showed that even 4- and 5-year-olds possess marked traits for perfectionism. Interviewers asked the children five questions tapping perfectionism levels (“How would you like to be perfect?”). They then gave the kids a computer task that was rigged not to work. The highly perfectionistic children showed greater signs of extreme distress, such as elevated anger and anxiety, explained Flett.

He adds that perfectionists reveal themselves in three distinct ways: first, a “self-promotion” style, that involves attempts to impress others by bragging or displaying one’s perfection (this type is easy to spot because they often irritate other people); second, by shunning situations in which they might display their imperfection (common even in young children); and third, a tendency to keep problems to oneself (including an inability to admit failure to others).

*Top Ten Signs Your a Perfectionist

Are you a perfectionist? Flett has devised a list of telltale signs:

1. You can’t stop thinking about a mistake you made.
2. You are intensely competitive and can’t stand doing worse than others.
3. You either want to do something “just right” or not at all.
4. You demand perfection from other people.
5. You won’t ask for help if asking can be perceived as a flaw or weakness.
6. You will persist at a task long after other people have quit.
7. You are a fault-finder who must correct other people when they are wrong.
8. You are highly aware of other people’s demands and expectations.
9. You are very self-conscious about making mistakes in front of other people.
10. *You noticed the error in the title of this list.

Please read all 10 before writing to YFile!