LDS Perfectionism: Research Reveals Pros and Cons

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Image via LDS Living

This article was originally written by Janalee Rosner for LDS Living.

“You’re such a perfectionist!”

It’s a phrase many Latter-day Saints are familiar with. It’s something I’ve been told most of my life. Though it’s often said in a joking way, there’s no denying the negative connotation that comes with the word “perfectionist.” And in a church that strives for perfection and has high expectations, members frequently find themselves coming up short, which can lead to discouragement, dissatisfaction, and stress.

But according to Professors G. E. Kawika Allen and Kenneth T. Wang, perfectionism, or striving for high standards, is not the problem.

In a recent study focusing specifically on Latter-day Saints, Allen and Wang surveyed around 267 highly active members in Utah. In their study, they asked questions about anything from satisfaction with life to inward and outward religious commitment. They ended up identifying three main groups.

The first group, 22% of people surveyed, were not perfectionists, that is, they don’t believe they hold themselves to high personal standards. The rest were considered perfectionists, but had an interesting split among them – a new type of perfectionism. Of the perfectionist group, 30% were classified as what Allen and Wang labeled maladaptive perfectionism, while 47% were classified as adaptive.

“Adaptive perfectionists are likely to feel acceptance of themselves and their efforts, even when they fail or fall short of the high personal standards they have set for themselves,” their original study release explains. “They were also more inwardly and outwardly committed to their LDS faith, which supports previous peer-reviewed findings that religious commitment plays a role in achieving better psychological health.” That means adaptive perfectionism is actually healthy.

However, not all types of perfectionism are healthy. “Individuals in the maladaptive group experienced less satisfaction with life, often feeling depressed or anxious. They showed increased scrupulosity, which is the fear of sinful behavior and punishment from God.”

Though Allen admits that circumstances limited their study largely to young adults in their early to mid-20s, it seems an appropriate population to study—it’s a time of life when there is perhaps the most pressure to live up to high “perfectionist” expectations of missions, marriage, and education.

Read Rosner’s full article at LDSLiving.com.