Lecture examines the perils of perfectionism

Every day we are bombarded with programs, advertising, images and messaging targeted at achieving a state of perfection in one form or another. Whether it is the myriad of design magazines that offer advice on achieving the perfect wall colour or placement of furniture in our living rooms to media images of emaciated models with "perfect" bodies or the pressure to achieve top grades to facilitate entry into an A-list school, the pressure to succeed and exceed is everywhere.

How does perfectionism affect our health? What are the perils of perfectionism gone too far and what is the effect of perfectionism on those around us? On Wednesday, Oct. 29, York Professor Gordon Flett (right) will talk about the connection between perfectionism and health in a lecture hosted by Stong College. Titled "The Perils of Perfectionism", Flett’s lecture will take place from 12:30 to 1:30pm in the Samuel Beckett Theatre, Room 112, Stong College. The lecture is free and open to the community.

Flett, a professor of psychology in York’s Faculty of Health and the Canada Research Chair in Personality & Health, is researching perfectionism from a variety of viewpoints including: the relationship between perfectionism and psychological disorders, including eating disorders and postpartum depression; the role of perfectionism in the treatment of and recovery from physical illness; how perfectionists contribute to the stress and distress of their adolescent children; and, the transmission of this personality trait from parent to child.

As part of his talk on Wednesday, Flett will distinguish perfectionists in terms of self-oriented perfectionism (personal perfectionism), perfectionism directed at others (other-oriented perfectionism) and those who are the target of perfectionist expectations (socially-prescribed perfectionism). He will also examine the role of perfectionism in health problems and mental health problems within the context of the various developmental factors that operate and contribute to the excessive need to be perfect that characterizes some people.

Flett co-developed with University of British Columbia Professor Paul Hewitt, the Multi-dimensional Perfectionism Scale, a model reconstruction of both the personal and interpersonal components of perfectionism. Subsequent research efforts based on this model have firmly established that perfectionism has personal and interpersonal components and is associated with various forms of maladjustment, including depression, anxiety and suicidal tendencies. Flett and Hewitt have also collaborated on the development of several other measures, including the Child-Adolescent Perfectionism Scale, the Perfectionism Cognitions Inventory, and the Perfectionistic Self-Presentation Scale. Flett is also the co-creator of the newly developed Endler Multi-dimensional Anxiety Scales (EMAS) – Social Anxiety Scales.

Flett is the associate dean of research and graduate education in the Faculty of Health. He has written more than 160 journal articles and book chapters. He is also the sole author of the book Personality Theory and Research: An International Perspective, published by John Wiley & Sons Canada.

*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.

For more on Flett and his research, read the 2004 YorkU Magazine article "Too Perfect".