What Kind of Perfectionist Are You?

What is your biggest weakness?

How many of you have answered this question by claiming your biggest weakness is being a perfectionist?This is one of the most common questions that is asked in a new job interview. In the workplace and in school, being perceived as a perfectionist is socially desirable. However, is perfectionism a weakness or can it be a strength?

According to research, there are two types of perfectionists: adaptive or positive perfectionists and maladaptive or negative perfectionists. Both types of perfectionism have similar attributes. They work hard, set high goals and strive for excellence in all aspects however, the way they perceive their results differ.

Can perfectionism be beneficial?

The answer lies in the response to failure. When differentiating between the two, positive perfectionists tend to focus on their achievements and how to improve their work while negative perfectionists focus on avoiding failure.

Positive perfectionists are intrinsically motivated by challenging themselves to grow. In the school setting, a positive perfectionist studies long hours to pass the class. At work, this person works diligently to get a promotion. When confronted with a difficult task or even failure, this type of perfectionist focuses on problem solving. Their efforts are shifted to figure out how to improve rather than giving up. Given the time and resources available, these folks strive for excellence by paying attention to detail and focusing on doing the best job possible.  

Negative perfectionists however are focused on avoiding failure. The negative perfectionist in school spends long hours studying to avoid tarnishing their 4.0 GPA. At work, the negative perfectionist works hard to avoid others being promoted over them.  These folks also base their overall value as a person by avoiding failure.  

The difference in their perception of goals is what can create emotional resilience. Although in both scenarios, the positive and negative perfectionist reaches similar endpoints, research shows that positive perfectionism leads to being more equipped for emotional distress. Negative perfectionism is connected depression and anxiety.

John Monopoli LMFT, LPCC shares  some ideas to embrace your inner positive perfectionist:

Striving for excellence is a normal and healthy aspiration. However, positive perfectionism is the strength that will get you there while negative perfectionism can stand in your way. Distinguishing which perfectionist you are can help you begin to move forward rather than hold you back.

Being aware of the standards that you hold for yourself will allow you to make changes in your expectations. Giving up negative perfectionism doesn’t have to lead to a life of disappointment and failure.  Instead, you can take advantage of the motivation that comes with positive perfectionism by having a more flexible view of making mistakes while learning from them.  You’ll feel better about yourself with this more balanced view of perfectionism.

About The Author

Rudairo Segbeaya is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and Pacific CBT’s Office Manager. Rudairo received a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from the University of San Francisco in 2018. In 2021, she later received a Master’s degree in Special Education with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis from Arizona State University.