Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Perfectionism, Shame, and Depressive Symptoms

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Perfectionism, Shame, and Depressive Symptoms

Article excerpt

Over the past three decades, research emphasizing the life experiences and personal characteristics of individuals with depression has greatly improved the understanding of depression, particularly its more chronic and treatment-resistant forms (Blatt, 1995). Researchers representing various schools of inquiry consistently distinguish depression that is focused on interpersonal relationship issues (i.e., dependency, helplessness, and abandonment) from depression in which issues of self-concept are central (i.e., autonomy, self-criticism, and self-worth). "Each of these theoretical positions differentiates among subtypes of depression, not on the basis of manifest symptoms of depression, but of the life experiences that seem to be important to depressed individuals and to have precipitated their dysphoric feelings" (Blatt, 1995, p. 1010). In the current study, we examined the effects of affective experiences closely related to self-concept (shame and self-esteem) and their expected influence on the path from a characteristic personality orientation (perfectionism) to a tendency for dysphoria and depression.

Blatt (1995) characterized self-critical depression as "particularly insidious" (p. 1010), and he noted that research with clinical and nonclinical samples reveals significant positive correlations between highly perfectionistic self-criticism and both chronic depression and a substantially elevated risk for suicide. Recent empirical efforts have demonstrated a significant inverse relationship between the pretreatment levels of maladaptive perfectionism in individuals with chronic depression and positive therapeutic outcomes (Blatt, Quinlan, Pilkonis, & Shea, 1995; Blatt, Zuroff, Bondi, Sanislow, & Pilkonis, 1998). The results of these studies, which involved a variety of short-term treatment modalities, indicated that individuals who experienced unhealthy perfectionism achieved lower posttreatment gains and reported less satisfaction with their treatment, both at termination of treatment (after 16 sessions) and at an 18-month follow-up. In addition, numerous other empirical investigations have also supported a link between maladaptive perfectionism and depression (e.g., Flett, Hewitt, & Martin, 1995; Frost, Heimberg, Holt, Mattia, & Neubauer, 1993; Hewitt & Dyck, 1986; Hewitt & Flett, 1991a; Rice, Ashby, & Slaney, 1998).

The literature on perfectionism reflects the relatively recent conceptualization and measurement of perfectionism using multiple dimensions. The empirical literature has been dominated by three multidimensional measures of perfectionism: two that are each called the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale, preceded by the respective author's name Frost or Hewitt (FMPS; Frost, Martin, Lahart, & Rosenblate, 1990; HMPS, Hewitt & Flett, 1991b), and a third measure called the Almost Perfect Scale (APS; Slaney & Johnson, 1992). The authors of the FMPS and the HMPS conceptualize perfectionism along somewhat different dimensions. Hewitt and Flett (1991b) contended that perfectionism has three fundamental aspects: (a) Self-Oriented perfectionism, the tendency to set high standards for oneself; (b) Socially Prescribed perfectionism, the belief that others set high standards for you; and (c) Other-Oriented perfectionism, the tendency to set high standards for others. In contrast, Frost et al. (1990) identified six dimensions of perfectionism: (a) Personal Standards, (b) Organization, (c) Concern Over Mistakes, (d) Doubts About Actions, (e) Parental Expectations, and (f) Parental Criticism. Although these multidimensional views of perfectionism differ somewhat, each emphasizes the endorsement of very high personal standards as well as an external etiological source of perfectionism (i.e., Socially Prescribed perfectionism in the HMPS and Parental Expectations and Parental Criticism in the FMPS).

A third prominent approach to the definition and measurement of perfectionism can be found in the APS (Slaney & Johnson, 1992) and its successor, the Almost Perfect Scale-Revised (APS-R; Slaney, Rice, Mobley, Trippi, & Ashby, 2001). …

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