Perfectionism, Dysfunctional Attitudes, and Self-Esteem: A Structural Equations Analysis. (Research)

By Ashby, Jeffrey S.; Rice, Kenneth G. | Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview
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Perfectionism, Dysfunctional Attitudes, and Self-Esteem: A Structural Equations Analysis. (Research)


Ashby, Jeffrey S., Rice, Kenneth G., Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD


Authors and researchers have given increasing attention to perfectionism in recent years. This attention has included a proliferation of scales designed to measure perfectionism and investigations of the relationship between perfectionism and a host of emotional and physical problems and diagnoses. Perfectionism has been positively linked to eating disorders (Axtell & Newlon, 1993; Brouwers & Wiggum, 1993), depression (Blatt, Quinlan, Pilkonis, & Shea, 1995), personality disorders (Hewitt, Flett, & Turnbull, 1992), migraines (Brewerton & George, 1993), sexual dysfunction (Quadland, 1980), anxiety (Alden, Biding, &Wallace, 1994; Flett, Hewitt, & Dyck, 1989), and obsessive compulsive disorders (Broday, 1988; Frost, Steketee, Cohn, & Griess, 1994).

These findings are consistent with earlier anecdotal and theoretical work that framed perfectionism as pathological and linked perfectionism to lower levels of self-esteem. For instance, Horney (1950) described perfectionists as neurotically attempting to mold themselves to an impossibly idealized image, making low self-esteem inevitable. Missildine (1963) observed that dissatisfaction with self and low self-esteem were key elements of perfectionism. Hollender (1965) described the perfectionist as motivated by profound insecurity to continue attempting to gain acceptance from parents through performance accomplishments and faultless behavior. Burns (1980) maintained that perfectionists, who strain compulsively toward unrealistic and impossible goals of perfection, pay a price that "includes not only decreased productivity, but also impaired health, poor self-control, troubled personal relationships, and low self-esteem" (p. 34). Pacht (1984) suggested that in order to prove that they are loveable, perfectionists set goals unrealistically high. These goals are generally unattainable, and as a result, perfectionists see themselves as failures and unlovable. Pacht noted, "the insidious nature of perfectionism leads me to use the label only when describing a kind of psychopathology" (p. 387). Sorotzkin (1985) further noted that for the perfectionist "any deviation from the perfectionistic goal is likely to be accompanied by moralistic self-criticism and lowered self-esteem" (p. 564).

Much of the early empirical work investigating perfectionism operationalized the construct in a fashion consistent with the early theoretical work. For instance, Burns (1980) modified a portion of the Dysfunctional Attitude Scale (DAS; Weissman & Beck, 1978) and developed a scale specifically designed to measure the degree to which perfectionists strive "compulsively and unremittingly toward impossible goals and ... measure their own worth entirely in terms of productivity and accomplishment" (p. 34).

Later efforts at assessing perfectionism have taken a multidimensional approach. Two scales, both called the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (Frost, Marten, Lahart, & Rosenblate, 1990; Hewitt & Flett, 1989), were designed to measure different aspects of perfectionism. Hewitt and Flett proposed three dimensions of perfectionism: self-oriented perfectionism, other-oriented perfectionism, and socially prescribed perfectionism. Self-oriented perfectionism includes setting high standards and using those standards to evaluate performance. Other-oriented perfectionism includes holding others to high standards and evaluating others critically when they fail to meet those standards. Socially prescribed perfectionism includes the belief that others are holding one to high standards and pressuring them to be perfect. Hewitt and Flett have consistently maintained that high scores on all three dimensions are considered to be indicative of pathology (e.g., Flett, Hewitt, Blankstein, & O'Brien, 1991; Flett et al., 1989).

In another attempt to measure perfectionism from a multidimensional perspective, Frost et al.

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