Perfectionism is a personality trait that some may consider being a positive characteristic. Even though striving for the best can be good quality, harshly criticizing anything less than perfect can be harmful to the person. Perfectionism can cause negative effects on different aspects of one’s life including their sexual life and relationships. Perfectionism can be defined as the constant concern to be perfect and flawless. If you are a perfectionist you may find it difficult to feel successful, even if you might feel inadequate or see yourself as a failure from time to time.
According to the work of Hewitt and Flett and the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale they created, there are three types of perfectionism which are self-oriented, other-oriented, and socially prescribed.
Self-oriented perfectionism refers to an individual’s high standards towards themselves. People with self-oriented perfectionism would try to be perfect in general and to reach their full potential. Differently, other-oriented perfectionism is about setting high standards for other people and expecting them to do everything perfectly. People with other-oriented perfectionism can find it difficult to stand people making mistakes and they can be seen as critical and judgemental from the outside. Lastly, in socially prescribed perfectionism, individuals’ self-worth is connected with the standards that others have about them. Socially prescribed perfectionists may feel anxious to meet the standards of society.
Perfectionism can have a negative impact on people’s relationships. Although living with perfectionism can be very difficult for the person, sometimes it can be challenging for the people in their life as well. Someone with other-oriented perfectionism can transfer their standards upon their partner in their relationship and/or their sexual life. In this case, their partner may feel anxious and inadequate for not meeting their perfectionist partner’s standards. Also, the partner with perfectionism can feel frustrated and anxious because of the everlasting high standards they have. Striving to be a perfect partner is as unrealistic and tiring as expecting someone to be a perfect partner.
Even though conflict is part of a healthy relationship, people who are perfectionists can see conflict as a failure and a mistake. Therefore, a conflict can increase the feelings of anxiety and stress in perfectionist partners and they may not be able to cope with it appropriately.
It is highly possible for perfectionist individuals to have low levels of self-esteem. This can result in emotional unavailability as one may not want to share their fears, feelings, and insecurities with others including their partner so as not to feel weak or vulnerable. Perfectionist people may think that they have to appear strong all the time and they might feel that they have to control their emotions constantly. This characteristic of them can make it difficult for them to both open up to their partner and support their partner emotionally.
The partner of a perfectionist individual may experience sexual performance anxiety as a result of the high standards and expectations of their partner. This can cause sexual dysfunctions such as problems in arousal and lubrication.
If you think your perfectionism is interfering with your life and relationships, you can get help from a professional and benefit from therapy. You can book an appointment here.
Başak Turan is an intern at Willingness. She is a psychology graduate and currently a Clinical Psychology master’s student at the University of Bergamo, Italy.
Hewitt, P. L., & Flett, G. L. (1991). Perfectionism in the self and social contexts: Conceptualization, assessment, and association with psychopathology. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 456–470. Stoeber, J., Harvey, L.N. Multidimensional Sexual Perfectionism and Female Sexual Function: A Longitudinal Investigation. Arch Sex Behav 45, 2003–2014 (2016).