Perfectionists tend to set lofty goals for themselves and often go to extreme lengths to achieve those goals. It has been suggested that perfectionism can be negative behavior, leading to a sense of self-criticism and failure when goals are not met. However, there are two distinct forms of perfectionism: adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism. And although maladaptive perfectionism can lead to harsh self-judgments and psychological difficulties, adaptive perfectionism is thought to actually benefit a person’s psychological state. Two other traits, avoidant and anxious attachment styles, can also be impacted by perfectionism. These personality styles influence an individual’s ability to interact with others and play an important role in the overall process of how perfectionism impacts psychological well-being.
Philip B. Gnilka of the Department of Counseling and Human Development Services at Kent State University in Illinois recently conducted a study assessing how perfectionism, both maladaptive and adaptive, affected attachment styles and what that effect had on overall psychological well-being. Using a group of 180 college students, Gnilka evaluated levels of depression, life satisfaction, and hopelessness as outcomes of perfectionism and attachment. The findings revealed that adaptive perfectionism was directly predictive of increased life satisfaction and decreased levels of hopelessness, depression, and both avoidant and anxious attachment styles. “Conversely,” said Gnilka, “Maladaptive perfectionism was negatively associated with life satisfaction and positively associated with depression, hopelessness, and both adult attachment styles.”
These findings suggest that counselors whose clients have high levels of perfectionism should explore whether that perfectionism is destructive or constructive to their well-being and how their perfectionism relates to attachment styles. Also, Gnilka points out that highly maladaptive perfectionists who are avoidant or anxious in nature may be at risk for premature therapy termination. It is important for therapists to clarify the therapeutic goals with these clients so that they do not experience feelings of failure during the therapeutic process. Also, many maladaptive perfectionists may have difficulty developing a constructive therapeutic alliance based on their attachment styles. All of these factors should be taken into consideration when a treatment plan is developed and therapy is initiated.
Gnilka, Philip B., Jeffrey S. Ashby, and Christina M. Noble. Adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism as mediators of adult attachment styles and depression, hopelessness, and life satisfaction. Journal of Counseling & Development 91.1 (2013): 71-86. Print.
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