Perfectionism is multi-dimensional, including evaluative concerns (EV) and personal standards (PS) of perfectionism. “Whereas PS perfectionism is primarily defined by the setting of high standards per se, EC perfectionism is primarily defined by self-critical features such as concern over mistakes and doubts about actions,” said Liesbet Boone, faculty member of the Department of Developmental, Social and Personality Psychology at Ghent University in Belgium. “Both clinical accounts and empirical studies suggest that perfectionism is strongly involved in the development and maintenance of eating disorder (ED) symptoms.” In a recent study, Boone attempted to address two specific questions relating to perfectionism and eating problems. “Do both PS and EC perfectionism have unique relations with ED symptoms? Or is only EC perfectionism uniquely associated with ED symptoms?” asked Boone.
Boone and her colleagues evaluated 559 adolescents over a period of two years. They assessed their levels of perfectionism and eating problems and found that EC perfectionism was the most significant factor that contributed to disordered eating, and specifically, to bulimia. “This finding suggests that being overly critical of one’s own behavior and performance increases the risk to experience bulimic symptoms two years later,” said Boone. “In addition to the direct association between EC perfectionism and increases in bulimic symptoms, we found that EC perfectionism also had an indirect association with increases in bulimic symptoms through perceived pressure to be thin and body dissatisfaction.”
Boone believes her findings have clinical implications that could help target treatment for adolescents at risk for disordered eating. “By focusing exclusively on a reduction of perceived pressure to be thin and thin-ideal internalization, the source of these harmful socio-cultural orientations may not be addressed such that these orientations and their related symptoms reappear later. We argue that the long-term effectiveness of interventions may be increased by specifically addressing the role of PS and EC perfectionism.” She added, “Programs could, for instance, incorporate modules to diminish evaluative concerns and self-criticism and to lower the tendency to set very high standards in general and standards in the domain of weight and shape in particular.”
Boone, Liesbet, Bart Soenens, and Caroline Braet. “Perfectionism, Body Dissatisfaction, And Bulimic Symptoms: the Intervening Role of Perceived Pressure to Be Thin And Thin Ideal Internalization.” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 30.10 (2011): 1043-068. Print.
© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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