Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Maladaptive Perfectionism, Adult Attachment, and Self-Esteem in College Students

Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Maladaptive Perfectionism, Adult Attachment, and Self-Esteem in College Students

Article excerpt

Extending an earlier study that found high self-esteem to modify the impact of otherwise maladaptive perfectionism on depression, the current study used adult attachment theory to explore the link between perfectionism, self-esteem, and depression in college students. Results indicated that self-esteem buffered the effects of maladaptive perfectionism on depression and that adult attachment security moderated the association between perfectionistic self-doubt and self-esteem. Counseling implications of these findings are discussed.

There has been considerable interest in perfectionism in the counseling and student development literature in recent years. College counselors regularly encounter perfectionistic clients because of the exceptionally high prevalence of perfectionism among college student populations: As many as two thirds of some college samples have been categorized as perfectionistic (Grzegorek, Slaney, Franze, & Rice, 2004).

Increased interest in assisting perfectionistic clients has been paralleled by the development of useful multidimensional conceptualizations and operationalizations of perfectionism (Frost, Marten, Lahart, & Rosenblate, 1990; Hamachek, 1978; Hewitt & Flett, 1991; Slaney, Rice, Mobley, Trippi, & Ashby, 2001). Two high-order dimensions of perfectionism, with different adjustment implications, have emerged in some of this work. The first dimension, variously termed as adaptive, normal, or personal standards perfectionism, is often characterized by high personal standards (e.g., preferences for personal competence, expectations for strong personal performance, high personal goals for oneself) that relate positively to variables such as active coping, high self-esteem, achievement, and conscientiousness (Parker, 1997; Rice & Lapsley, 2001).

The second dimension, often labeled as maladaptive or neurotic perfectionism, is typified by excessive concerns about making mistakes, self-doubt, and perception of failure to attain personal standards (Frost, Heimberg, Holt, Mattia, & Neubauer, 1993; Slaney et al., 2001). High personal standards appear to be associated with both adaptive and maladaptive dimensions of perfectionism (Rice & Mirzadeh, 2000). High standards combined with excessive concerns about mistakes seem to be especially maladaptive, whereas high standards but low concerns about mistakes may be adaptive (Rice & Dellwo, 2002).

Of particular interest to college student counselors is that maladaptive perfectionism has been repeatedly associated with a host of psychological problems, such as depression, anxiety, disordered eating, dysfunctional attitudes, and substance abuse (see Blatt, 1995, for a review). Self-esteem and depression have been frequently used as indicators of college adjustment or maladjustment in much of this research. For example, Preusser, Rice, and Ashby (1994) found that self-esteem mediated the effects of maladaptive perfectionism on depression for a sample of college students. They concluded that perfectionists might become depressed because perfectionism diminishes self-esteem. However, their study was limited by single subscale indicators of the constructs and by a relatively small sample size. Furthermore, potentially more adaptive dimensions of perfectionism were not consistently associated with self-esteem. In a follow-up study, Rice, Ashby, and Slaney (1998) measured perfectionism, self-esteem, and depression in a large sample of more than 400 university students. Using structural equation modeling, they found only partial support for the mediational role of self-esteem in predicting depression, and only when maladaptive perfectionism was in the model. Adaptive perfectionism was not significantly related to either self-esteem or depression. In exploratory moderator analyses, they found that the effects of maladaptive perfectionism on depression were significantly buffered by high self-esteem; in addition, they further identified a number of maladaptive perfectionists with high self-esteem. …

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