Understanding the Complexities of Perfectionism

The topic of perfectionism was front and centre as Dr. Martin M. Antony presented at Grand Rounds at Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences (Ontario Shores) on Thursday, February 13.

Dr. Antony, Director of the Anxiety Research and Treatment Lab at Ryerson University, is one of the country’s most prominent researchers in the area of perfectionism, anxiety disorders, and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). 

Grand Rounds

“James Cameron describes himself as a perfectionist,” noted Dr. Antony during his presentation entitled ‘Nature and Treatment of Perfectionism’. “He may not have a problem with this, but others around him may say different.”

Dr. Antony brought the audience up to speed by presenting contrasting definitions of perfectionism.
While the dictionary defines it as a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable, clinically, perfectionism is defined as the overdependence of self-evaluation on the determined pursuit (and achievement) of self-imposed, personally demanding standards of performance in at least one salient domain, despite the occurrence of adverse consequences.

Dr. Antony added that people who are high in perfectionism remember having parents who set very high standards for them however it seems the more negative experiences such as peer victimization lead to perfectionism. 

Perfectionists also have views that stem from biased beliefs, assumptions, and predictions that impact a variety of areas in their lives.  Research has shown that a perfectionist’s life can be impacted in several areas, including work, studies, hygiene, and social relationships.

In terms of treatment options, Dr. Antony noted CBT can help perfectionists see things more broadly.

“Changing perfectionistic thinking involves examining the evidence, education, perspective shifting, compromising with self and others, hypothesis testing, changing social habits, looking at the big picture and tolerating uncertainty and ambiguity,” noted Dr. Antony.