There is an abundance of literature providing evidence for a link between perfectionism and depression. People who are highly self-critical with respect to perfectionism are more vulnerable to negative moods. These individuals tend to be overly harsh on themselves when they make a mistake and are extremely sensitive to the evaluations of others, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy. Perfectionist strivings are characterized as attempts to achieve perfection. Both of these perfectionist traits impact depressive symptoms. However, until recently, few studies have looked specifically at the different ways in which perfectionism influences depression. Daniel S. McGrath of the Department of Psychology at Dalhousie University led a study to address this gap.
McGrath and his colleagues looked at how depressive symptoms that impair motivation and exacerbate avoidance and isolation impacted perfectionism in a sample of 240 college students. Over 4 weeks, the researchers evaluated the students for levels of self-critical perfectionism, perfectionist strivings, and depression and assessed how each factor influenced the other. The results revealed that depression increased self-critical perfectionism and self-critical perfectionism increased depression in the students. The reciprocal nature of these findings lends support to existing research. However, McGrath also discovered that the individuals who engaged in perfectionist strivings realized decreases in their symptoms of depression. McGrath also found that in these same students, perfectionist strivings increased as depressive symptoms increased.
These results suggest that depression may actually complicate symptoms of perfectionism, not increase them. These findings are in line with other studies that found a complicated and bidirectional link between depression and perfectionism. Specifically, McGrath found that individuals with high levels of self-critical perfectionism who were unaccepting of their accomplishments engaged in self-degradation, which decreased their motivation and increased their avoidance. McGrath said, “Persons high in self-critical perfectionism may find themselves in an escalating pattern where self-critical perfectionism leads to, and results from, depressive symptoms.” McGrath believes that further research is needed to untangle the relationship between different types of perfectionism and depression.
McGrath, D. S., Sherry, S. B., Stewart, S. H., Mushquash, A. R., Allen, S. L., Nealis, L. J., et al. (2012). Reciprocal relations between self-critical perfectionism and depressive symptoms: Evidence from a short-term, four-wave longitudinal study. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science/Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027764
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