The 3 Types of Perfectionism

Perfectionist title graphic

Did you that there are different types of perfectionism? I didn’t—at least not before attending a conference in which Dr. Matthew Draper presented a paper on perfectionism. He told a story of a girl he was treated for heroin addiction. The root of her problem: perfectionism.

Apparently, she suffered from more than one type of perfectionism—which, to this point, I hadn’t known was a thing. Dr. Draper, in his address, discussed three types of perfectionism. Upon further research, I have learned that there are more types and names for perfectionism, but I will mainly discuss the three Dr. Draper touched on: self-oriented, other-oriented, and projected.

Self-Oriented Perfectionism

doubt trial-mormon

In self-oriented perfectionism, we have an idea in mind for ourselves, and if we don’t live up to it, we feel shame. When I think of perfectionism, this is what comes to mind. Psychology Today describes this type of perfectionism in the following thoughts:

  • I strive to be as perfect as I can be.
  • It makes me uneasy to see an error in my work.
  • I must work to my full potential at all times.
  • I set very high standards for myself.

Self-oriented perfectionists tend to have impossibly high standards for themselves, and then feel like a failure when they can’t achieve those standards. But what is wrong with striving for excellence? Dr. Paul Hewitt is one of the leading researchers in perfectionism, and he says that there is a difference in striving for excellence and striving for perfection.

The desire for perfection means that failure is not an option. The desire for excellence means that there is room for growth through failure.

Other-Oriented Perfectionism

judging-mormonOther-oriented perfectionism is when you judge others based on your impossibly high standards. This type of perfectionist expects others to perform on a certain level and they are incredibly harsh and critical to those that don’t meet their standards. Psychology Today describes this type of perfectionism in the following thoughts:

  • I can’t be bothered with people who won’t strive to better themselves.
  • I cannot stand to see people close to me make mistakes.
  • If I ask someone to do something, I expect it to be done flawlessly.

This is especially damaging to the relationships of the self-oriented perfectionist. It is hard to be friends with or married to a person that is constantly criticizing your actions. “If you require your spouse to be perfect, and you’re critical of that spouse, you can tell right away that there’s going to be relationship problems,” says Hewitt.

It isn’t necessarily wrong to have high expectations of someone—as long as that standard does not become the most important thing in that relationship. Parents naturally want their children to succeed and do well, but if that pressure to succeed starts to damage the relationship between parent and child and gives the child anxiety of failure, then it is no longer productive.

Projective Perfectionism

alone in a crowd-mormonThis is the last type of perfectionism Dr. Draper talked about in his presentation, and it is the one I find most intriguing. Projective perfectionism is when you think others are holding you to impossibly high standards. This type of perfectionism is also called socially-prescribed perfectionism. Psychology Today describes this type of perfectionism in the following thoughts:

  • I find it difficult to meet others’ expectations of me.
  • The people around me expect me to succeed at everything I do.
  • I feel that people are too demanding of me.
  • My family expects me to be perfect.

Some with this type of perfectionism assume that those they don’t even know are judging them.

My mother recently told me a story of a woman who suffers from this type of perfectionism. This woman didn’t want to come to church because she hadn’t paid her tithing correctly and she was afraid others would judge her for it. In reality, no one would know. There is no public record of who has paid their tithing and who hasn’t. But to this woman, it seemed as if everyone would know the shame she felt.

Related Link: What America Asks of Working Parents is Impossible, From the Atlantic 

Be Ye Therefore Perfect

Jesus Christ teaching on the Mount of OlivesWhat was interesting to me is that while only 5% of people with perfectionism suffer from projective perfectionism, that number is doubled within the Church. Does that mean that the Church causes perfectionism? Actually, no.

Dr. Draper found in his research that going to church doesn’t affect levels of perfectionism, but it is a reason people leave the Church. some feel that if they leave the Church that they will no longer suffer from their shame. Unfortunately, they just take their shame and perfectionism with them.

“Be ye therefore perfect” is the scriptural motto of those suffering from perfectionism. However, that scripture is not complete. The whole scripture in Matthew 5:48 is “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Christ doesn’t even call Himself perfect until 3 Nephi 12:48 when He says, “Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.”

The Greek word téleioi, from which perfect is translated, means “complete, finished, fully developed.” Church leaders have been telling us this for years. And since Christ wouldn’t call Himself, the only sinless being to walk the Earth, perfect until He had been resurrected, I think it is safe to say we won’t be perfect until then either. You can read more about perfectionism in another Third Hour article, Perfection Isn’t What You Think It Is.

So, the takeaway. Striving for excellence isn’t a bad thing. We should be constantly trying to better ourselves. This becomes a problem when we think that success is the only option. If you think that you are suffering from overwhelming perfectionism, seek professional help.

What do you do to overcome your perfectionism?

Holly grew up in Southern California and recently graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in Editing and Publishing. She loves being warm and snug and watching Netflix, playing video games, and reading. When she watches the Great British Baking Show she has the strong urge to bake and does so whenever she has more than just herself to share it with. She enjoys attending the Salt Lake Comic Con (FanX) and cosplaying with her husband. Right now Holly is an intern with Third Hour.