MAY 14, 2015 4:55 PM PDT

Perfectionism's Pro- and Anti-Social Aspects Revealed

WRITTEN BY: Will Hector
What human trait is less understood than lonely perfectionism? It's unattainable, of course, for we are all human. It's universally loathed by students who feel either squelched by its endless aspirations or frustrated by its elusiveness. It's romanticized by millions of hearts seeking that single partner who will unlock every possibility within.

A closer look reveals three types of perfectionists: other-oriented perfectionists, who expect others to be perfect and criticize them when they fail; self-oriented perfectionists, who expect the world within to be perfect based on excessively high self expectation; and those who seek perfection within because they believe it is important to others. This type is known as a socially prescribed perfectionist.

Two of the types have a single locus-either on others or the self. The third type focuses on the self within a larger framework. A different subset of two focuses on the self as the object needing corrective action.

In a study published in the Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, Joachim Stoeber of Britain's University of Kent compared the characteristics of socially prescribed perfectionists against those who set extremely high standards for themselves and those who set excessive standards for others but not themselves.

He found that two of the three perfectionist types have aggressive or antisocial behaviors and beliefs, while one type demonstrates pro-social characteristics. Can you guess which type this was?

Stoeber recruited 229 university students for the study, observing their style of humor and social behavior. He found that self-oriented perfectionists, even though they focus on themselves, care about social norms and the expectations and interests of others. They avoid making jokes at the expense of others, which Stoeber classified as aggressive jokes, leaning instead toward jokes that bring people together, which Stoeber called affiliative jokes.

Socially prescribed perfectionists don't partake in aggressive humor-unless we're speaking about self-aggression. These personality types make jokes at their own expense. They are rooted in low self-esteem and feelings of inferiority. They don't respond well to positive feedback and can be seen as antisocial or withdrawn from their emotions.

Other-oriented perfectionists-those critical of others who don't meet a pie-in-the-sky standard-were found to be aggressive jokers. They use at the expense of others. This is just one of the many uncaring traits they have that make them disregard the expectations of others and social norms. Because of their air of superiority, people in this bracket tend to be antisocial because they can't find people who meet-or who want to endlessly try meeting-their standards.

"Other-oriented perfectionism is a 'dark' form of perfectionism positively associated with narcissistic, antisocial and uncaring personality characteristics," Stoeber stated, reinforcing his other research stating these particular perfectionists can have the personality traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy.

One can imagine the evolutionary benefits to maintaining high standards for the self or, for that matter, other individuals. Perhaps at this stage of our evolution, when so much media messaging already points out our flaws, the other-oriented perfectionist is no longer of value to the "tribe."

Follow Will Hector on Twitter: @WriterWithHeart

(Source: Science Daily)
About the Author
  • Will Hector practices psychotherapy at Heart in Balance Counseling Center in Oakland, California. He has substantial training in Attachment Theory, Hakomi Body-Centered Psychotherapy, Psycho-Physical Therapy, and Formative Psychology. To learn more about his practice, click here:
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