What is Maladaptive Perfectionism?

Maladaptive perfectionism can be characterized by having too high personal standards of performance as well as tendencies to be excessively self-critical in self-evaluations. Maladaptive perfectionists need to take full control over their environment. When things do not go as planned, they develop extremely negative attitudes. Moreover, they perceive their environments as competitive and approach any kind of relationships more quite aggressively.

Although they work assertively and believe that they must reach big goals, maladaptive perfectionism  gets in the way of their success. Maladaptive perfectionists also tend to seek positive feedback from the environment and do their best to get approval from others. When they see some imperfections in their lives, they typically get discouraged, so they cannot  lead a successful and happy life. 

Maladaptive perfectionism symptoms

1. Extreme procrastination

Maladaptive perfectionists are so worried about being perfect and doing well that they almost become paralyzed. They may spend hours procrastinating over something urgent and miss the deadlines because they don’t believe they can create something that meets their imaginary impossible standards. They set too high expectations for themselves and live in a cycle where nothing is good enough, so they never make any forward movement.

2. Avoiding new things

Maladaptive perfectionists are so afraid of failure that they make excuses to skip new things they are not good at. This fear of failure prevents them from experiencing life to its fullest. Such behavior doesn’t allow maladaptive perfectionists to do something new even if there is a learning curve that comes with it

3. Anxiety is social settings

Perfectionists often feel full-fledged anxiety instead of excitement in social situations like going out with friends or giving a presentation. Maladaptive perfectionism makes them stray from being in the center of attention because they are afraid of doing something wrong. Such people believe that if they are not outstanding at certain things, they won’t be accepted and loved.

4. Keeping worries private

Perfectionists don’t share their doubts and mistakes because they are afraid to reveal they are flawed. They can’t admit their failures and recognize the lack of perfection.

5. Inability to maintain long-term relationships

The need of perfectionists to be flawless can sabotage their relationships with friends, family, colleagues, and partners. They always want to be right and it doesn’t allow others to express a different point of view or perspective. Since they take total control of everything, it prevents maladaptive perfectionists from forming genuine meaningful bonds. They also may keep a distance from people who may criticize them as it reminds them that they are not perfect.

Maladaptive Perfectionism and Relationships

Maladaptive perfectionism may contribute to inability  to sustain a healthy relationship. Typically, perfectionism is associated with interpersonal problems. It may cause authoritarian, exploitative, dominant behaviors as well as blaming others. Naturally, it results in a great deal of stress and conflict in a relationship. Maladaptive perfectionism is associated with anger that stems from the perceived unfairness of other people and has a negative impact on relationships. Perfectionists  are often insensitive and obsessive over the partner as well as tend to give destructive responses in relationships.

Maladaptive perfectionism may also cause individuals to project the same expectations they hold for themselves onto their partner. Consequently, the projection of expectations can cause difficulties in the relationship. The imposition of high-performance expectations onto other people leads to relationship distress.  Moreover, because of their fear of looking foolish or inadequate, perfectionists sometimes struggle with a disclosure phobia that prevents them from sharing their thoughts and feelings.

They think that their human foibles will not be accepted by others, and their extreme sensitivity to any kind of disapproval inhibits intimate communication. This leads to deprivation of the warmth and unconditional acceptance they seek but cannot get through accomplishment.

OCD Maladaptive Perfectionism

Maladaptive perfectionism can be strongly associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder. For example, it manifests when people with OCD feel that their compulsions have to be done in exactly the right way. Maladaptive perfectionism also occurs when one is not perfectly certain that they locked the door or turned off the stove, there is a need to check these items over and over again. In terms of OCD, perfectionists may have the excessive fear of making a catastrophic mistake which worsens checking behaviors. Moreover, perfectionism can intensify obsessions and make individuals closely monitor their thoughts as they believe that they have complete control over it. 

To cope with maladaptive OCD perfectionism, you should first recognize your perfectionistic tendencies. Then, you can work on mindfulness development to promote a more objective awareness of your thoughts and emotions. Accept that you have less control over thoughts that you might think so you will significantly reduce the level of distress caused by intrusive thoughts.

What’s more, you could try cognitive-behavioral techniques to critically examine your beliefs and evaluate the likelihood of making mistakes. Learn to give up control with the help of CBD exercises and reduce the influence of maladaptive perfectionism on your life. 

Maladaptive perfectionism and mental illness

Maladaptive perfectionism is strongly associated with depressive symptoms. Many studies show that people suffering from depression often struggle with self-critical perfectionism. At the same time, depressive symptoms are less likely to appear in people who don’t crave perfection. It is also important to note that psychologists assume an indirect relationship between maladaptive perfectionism and depression, asserting that it may be mediated by other mechanisms, such as self-esteem and internalized shame.

Studies suggest that maladaptive perfectionists have a higher risk of developing eating disorders, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. They also tend to struggle with insecure adult attachment, marital and premarital difficulties, poor academic performance, and emotional dysregulation. 


Maladaptive perfectionism treatment

To deal with maladaptive perfectionism one should remember that it’s an absolute illusion. Even though we were given numerous distorted messages from parents, teachers, and broader sources that nothing but the best is good enough, you should realize that perfection is actually impossible. In order not to get overwhelmed by the size of your goal, break it into bite-size pieces and manageable chunks. Always celebrate each small accomplishment.

Also, stop the self-critical voice in your mind and replace it with a positive statement. Redirect your thoughts to more constructive thinking reminding yourself that imperfection is okay. Press pause and do something positive for yourself, like practicing relaxed breathing,  or taking a walk.

If all the recommendations mentioned above don’t work for you, probably it’s time to reach out to a professional. Don’t neglect therapy because it’s directly associated with the quality of your everyday life. 

Anton Kurapov

Anton Kurapov

PhD, a professor assistant at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv. Fascinated by the role of psychology in lives of people and simply astonished by the complexity of the brain and its functions.

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