Recent events conspired to point out to me with unavoidable clarity that I am a perfectionist, so I’m working on learning more about that. Unfortunately, for me and many others, perfectionism represents seriously dysfunctional attitudes that cause distress.
Of course, I asked myself,
Am I really a perfectionist?
Well, there’s a psychological scale for that! Actually, several of them. Nice validated instruments, some easier to comprehend than others, but it takes a lot of reading for full interpretation. I didn’t go quite that far – sometimes there are self-scoring details with interpretations, but good luck finding them.
I’m not a health professional, just applying my research training to interpreting this information. I found a nice collection of instruments with just a little searching. The difficult thing about self-administering these assessments is that I know what the “right” answer is, but I have to give an honest answer, and there’s no one to ask about anything that might be confusing. Another caution is that lacking context for comparison (e.g., what’s normal?) can make interpretation difficult to impossible. You have to dig into the academic literature if you want to get serious about interpretation.
But hey, let’s just take these tests anyway and see what they say!
The Almost Perfect Scale (Revised) is a 23-item instrument with 7-point Likert-like scales for each item (strongly agree to strongly disagree) and straight scoring, meaning that each Likert option corresponds to a number, and you just add ’em up. This makes it very easy to both take and score; lower scores are more normal and very high scores are neurotic.
The APS measures three subscales: Standards, Order, and Discrepancy, where discrepancy is complicated to explain but means something like, “how far off center your expectations are” and to some degree also how upsetting this is to you. My scores were telltale:
- Standards: 48/49 = 98%
- Order: 24/28 = 86%
- Discrepancy: 70/84 = 83%
What can I say? I guess I’m a perfectionist after all. I’m pretty strict about order and neatness (true, although in many respects compensatory for ADD), but I’m ridiculous when it comes to what I expect of myself. The discrepancy score reinforces the overall not-goodness of my brand of self-reinforcing perfectionist behavior.
Next up, the more complicated assessment Dysfunctional Attitudes Survey, which comes in several flavors, and seven subscales which I found far more telling than a summative score. I scored right around the middle for approval, love, and entitlement, suggesting that those attitudes are pretty much normal. However…
I scored at the extreme high end for achievement (i.e., workaholic), and very high for perfectionism and autonomy as well. So not only do I feel that my self-worth is tied to achievement and I’m destructively perfectionistic about it, but I recognize that it’s all my fault and fixing it is up to me, which I therefore assume must mean all by myself. Technically, a high score on autonomy should be good, but I’ve found creative ways to make even that work against me. It’s a special talent.
Finally, we have the Frost Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale, in a convenient online self-scoring test. As usual, the higher you score (raw numbers or percentiles) the worse the situation is…
- Organization: 4.5/5 = 90%
- Personal Standards: 4.7/5 = 94%
- Parental Expectations/Criticism: 3.6/5 = 72%
- Concern Over Mistakes: 5.7/5 = 114% (?!?)
The high score on organization from the APS was confirmed, as was the overwhelmingly high standards from the DAS. In researchese, it’s called convergent validity, meaning, that ain’t no lie. But 114% on concern over mistakes? Is that a mistake? Now I’m going to worry about it – I must have screwed up the test somehow… ;)
So what does all this suggest I should do? I plan to start with a little more reading up on perfectionism, especially since I don’t have a therapy appointment for a few weeks. Maybe by then I’ll have a better idea of how to move forward.