Negative Feedback May Exacerbate Depression and Anxiety in Perfectionists

For individuals who attempt to maintain a perfect persona, criticism can be difficult to accept. But a new study suggests that perfectionists who receive negative feedback may actually ruminate more and experience increased symptoms of social anxiety and depression. “Implicit in the perfectionism social disconnection model is the notion that people with high levels of interpersonal perfectionism have a heightened sense of interpersonal sensitivity and a tendency to react intensely to negative social feedback,” said researchers from York University. The team, in collaboration with researchers from the University of British Columbia and Brock University, added, “Moreover, the tendency to ruminate about negative interpersonal events involving interpersonal offenses directed at the self should further exacerbate the distress reactions of individuals with higher levels of perfectionism.” They noted that people who exhibit high levels of perfectionism tend to dwell on comments and offensive behaviors of others that are directed to them and can lead to an overall diminished sense of life satisfaction and negative mood.

In order to determine how negative feedback affected the symptoms of depression and social anxiety, as well as the level of rumination in perfectionists, the team enlisted 155 college students for their study. They evaluated the students using the Perfectionistic Self-Presentation Scale, the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale, the Social Feedback Questionnaire, the Rumination About an Interpersonal Offense and other tools designed to measure anxiety and depression. They discovered that the participants with the highest levels of perfectionism ruminated most frequently. “All six perfectionism dimensions, including self-oriented perfectionism and other-oriented perfectionism, were associated significantly with rumination about an interpersonal offense, but the association with the need to avoid appearing imperfect was strongest,” said the researchers. “Negative social feedback and interpersonal rumination were also correlated with both depressive symptoms and social anxiety.” They added, “Therefore, it seems as though interpersonal and social– cognitive processes, such as ruminating about an interpersonal offense and perceiving a high frequency of negative feedback from others, play instrumental roles in the distress experienced by certain highly perfectionistic individuals.”

Nepon, T., Flett, G. L., Hewitt, P. L., & Molnar, D. S. (2011, September 12). Perfectionism, Negative Social Feedback, and Interpersonal Rumination in Depression and Social Anxiety. Canadian Journal of  Behavioural Science/Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025032

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Ben


    September 19th, 2011 at 9:30 PM

    Those that indulge in perfectionism most often spend a lot of time and effort thinking about what they’re going to do at every step and try and make it as perfect as possible. I do this all the time too.

    But when after having put in so much effort and time, someone else says something negative that can really bring you down, if you know what i mean. It is very demoralizing and I’m not surprised it causes problems.

  • Janey


    September 20th, 2011 at 4:20 AM

    Negativity is difficult for anyone to face. But to have that directed toward one who is a perfectionist? That must be painful for him or her to bear!

  • Alexa


    September 20th, 2011 at 3:10 PM

    Perfectionisms is a very bad thing in my opinion. When you hold everything you do to such a high standard you’ll never get anywhere at all. Plus, as a perfectionist you take all criticism personally. As stated in this article, negative feedback can cause depression for perfectionists!

    Sure, wanting to make sure you do an excellent job on somethings is fine, but when you start wanting everything to be perfect is when the trouble starts. You want to be somewhere in the middle, a place where you don’t do everything perfectly but also a place where you don’t do everything poorly. This is where you’ll find yourself the happiest.

  • Norma


    September 20th, 2011 at 3:43 PM

    No one is perfect and no one can ever hope to be perfect. But the thing is that this is important to some people. And if this is something that they take pride in then why should they be judged harshly for that? They know the things in life that mean something to them and if they want to stress about it then so be it. They are the ones who have to deal with all of that. I think that these perfectionists know better than the rest of us how they feel when striving for perfection, but maybe they have decided that they feel overall better trying to be perfect than they would if they were not giving something their best shot.

  • MARK


    September 20th, 2011 at 10:19 PM

    Well,were all used to what we have and get,dont we?the same with perfectionists!They are used to being praised for their work and when a negative comment comes their way they may feel different and even offended!This can and does cause problems!

  • TG


    September 21st, 2011 at 11:40 AM

    Negative feedback is not a sweet thing for anybody but the ones that can take it and try to improve themselves are the real winners. All these ‘perfectionists’ are mostly arrogant and are over-confident of anything that they do. So when a negative feedback comes their way they are bound to go through such feelings..!

  • Brooke Lynn

    Brooke Lynn

    September 21st, 2011 at 12:32 PM

    They need to be able to take it, because believe me they are the ones who are typically handing out the negative comments to anyone else whose work does not live up to their standards!

  • Tina


    April 13th, 2016 at 9:11 PM

    It’s so hard to get over social anxiety and depression when I’m constantly getting negative feedback. Facing your fears is supposed to help you get over them, but when your fears actually happen it reinforces the fears and beliefs.

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