Perfectionism: The Good, The Bad, and The Way Beyond

Posted on February 14, 2014

Can perfectionism ever be useful? This was the question floated at the outset of an arresting keynote at the 2014 conference of the BPS's Division of Occupational Psychology. Paul Flaxman began by asking his audience to jot down helpful and hurtful features of perfectionism, and a show of hands demonstrated that many struggled to see a positive angle to it. They aren't alone - many clinical specialists who study perfectionism share this view. But over the hour, Flaxman informed us about data that throws lights on the negative and positive facets of perfectionism, including his own research on perfectionism in the workplace.

Yes, there is evidence showing perfectionism to be associated with various negative outcomes. People with perfectionist traits were found to recover from stress during vacations, but see that benefit dissipate quickly once they return to work. In general, perfectionism is also associated with weak productivity thanks to putting off completion of tasks or hitting walls in creative areas, and to personal frustrations.

One useful way to look at perfectionism is as an underlying vulnerability factor. Day-to-day perfectionism can chug away in the background, influencing but not determining behaviour, and if it's self-focused, it may facilitate better performance.

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Source material from British Psychological Society

Mental Health News