The Dark Side of Perfectionism

Dark Side of Perfectionism

It’s pretty common in interviews to be asked to name some of your weaknesses. Whilst the question is designed to elicit a degree of humility, most of the time its met with a supposedely humble brag about being a stickler for punctuality or something of a perfectionist. You undoubtedly say this with good intentions, but a recent study highlights how perfectionists often come with something of a dark side to them.

The study, produced by the University of Kent, reveals that perfectionists often come across as antisocial, narcissistic and have a rather aggressive sense of humour. What’s more, social norms are not really something that bothers them, and they see no real need to fit into any larger social picture.

The findings emerged from a study conducted to better understand the personal characteristics of various types of perfectionists.

The Three Forms of Perfectionism

Perfectionism is defined as setting incredibly high standards, and also being very critical, whether that’s of oneself or of other people. It’s believed there are three types of perfectionist, each with unique characteristics and behaviours.

  1. Self orientated perfectionists - these have very high standards for themselves and strive for perfection in all that they do.
  2. Socially prescribed perfectionists - these tend to believe that being perfect is crucial to others, and this drives them on.  Such people tend to be highly self critical.
  3. Other orientated perfectionists - the last kind of perfectionist tend to hold their exacting standards for other people rather than themslves.  They demand perfection from others and are incredibly scathing of those who fail to meet this standard.

It’s believed that those in this latter group often have the ’dark triad’ traits of psychopathy, Machiavellianism and narcissism. They can often also have issues involving intimacy, social development and nurturing.

Inside the Mind of the Perfectionist

The research explores how the three forms of perfectionism manifest themselves in terms of behaviour and even sense of humour they deploy. Several hundred participants were surveyed, and it emerged that only the self orientated perfectionist had a pro social aspect to their behaviour. It emerged that whilst they do focus primarily on themselves, they also show interest in others, have an interest in social norms and the expectations others have. What’s more, their humour tends to be affiliative and enhances relationships.

Socially prescribed perfectionists tend to prefer self-deprecating humour and have rather low self-esteem. Such individuals can often be antisocial and fail to show much emotion. They can also respond poorly to positive feedback.

The other orientated perfectionist however have rather more sinister behaviours. Their humour tends to be aggressive and often at the expense of others. They can often display somewhat uncaring traits and disregard social norms and expectations of others. They can feel superior and have trouble fitting into wider social circles.

"Other-oriented perfectionism is a ’dark’ form of perfectionism positively associated with narcissistic, antisocial and uncaring personality characteristics," the authors conclude.

See Also: Is Perfectionism Bad For You?

So whilst it’s tempting to label yourself as a perfectionist in job interviews, maybe you should think a little more about just what you’re owning up to.

Have you ever described yourself as a perfectionist in an interview? Were you being honest or just telling the interviewer what you thought he wanted to hear?

How other-oriented perfectionism differs from self-oriented and socially prescribed perfectionism