Multidimensional perfectionism and anxiety: differences among individuals with perfectionism and tests of a coping-mediation model.
Given the possible negative psychological outcomes related to perfectionism, it is important to be aware that a growing empirical literature has offered evidence for viewing perfectionism as having two distinct types: adaptive perfectionism and maladaptive perfectionism (e.g., Rice & Ashby, 2007; Stoeber & Otto, 2006). These two distinct types of perfectionism are based on the early conceptual work of Hamachek (1978), who asserted that both types of perfectionism are related to setting and maintaining high standards. According to Hamachek, what differentiates these two types of perfectionism is the inability of individuals with maladaptive perfectionism to gain a sense of satisfaction from any of their efforts because of their rigid and inflexible belief that they cannot reach their goals successfully. Conversely, individuals with adaptive perfectionism are able to gain a sense of satisfaction and pleasure from their intense efforts along with the ability to be flexible in their pursuits as required. As a result, individuals with maladaptive perfectionism "stew endlessly in emotional juices of their own brewing" (Hamachek, 1978, p. 27) because of the discrepancy between their high standards and their actual efforts. In contrast, individuals with adaptive perfectionism "concentrate on what has been achieved rather than pondering the discrepancy between what has been achieved and what might have been achieved if everything had worked out perfectly" (Stoeber & Otto, 2006, p. 316).
The results of several studies have supported these conceptual claims regarding adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism. For instance, recent studies have associated maladaptive perfectionism with higher levels of depression (Ashby, Noble, & Gnilka, 2012; Rice & Stuart, 2010), lower levels of self-esteem (Wang, Slaney, & Rice, 2007), increased levels of perceived stress (Rice & Van Arsdale, 2010), and higher levels of neuroticism (Rice, Ashby, & Slaney, 2007) than both adaptive perfectionism and nonperfectionism. Adaptive perfectionism, in contrast to maladaptive perfectionism and nonperfectionism, has been shown in several studies to be associated with a number of positive outcomes, including higher levels of conscientiousness (Rice et al., 2007), increased levels of hope (Ashby, Dickinson, Gnilka, & Noble, 2011), and lower levels of depression (Ashby et al., 2011).
Although there has been considerable research on the relationships between the different types of perfectionism and various psychological states, only a limited number of studies have investigated the mechanisms by which perfectionism results in psychological outcomes. One area of research (e.g., Dunkley, Zuroff, & Blankstein, 2003) has investigated the role of stress and coping in the relationship between perfectionism and outcomes.
Hamachek (1978) offered several conceptual ideas about how individuals with adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism may cope with perceived stressors. For instance, maladaptive perfectionists typically "concentrate on how to avoid doing things wrong"; have more "avoidance behavior"; and typically feel "anxious, confused, and emotionally drained before a new task is even begun" (Hamachek, 1978, p. 28). This suggests that maladaptive perfectionists are more likely to use ineffective coping when facing demands. In contrast, adaptive perfectionists "focus on their strengths and concentrate on how to do things right" and feel "excited, clear about what needs to be done, and emotionally charged" (Hamachek, 1978, p. 28). This suggests that adaptive perfectionists are more likely to use effective coping strategies than their real-adaptive counterparts.
The results of several studies have offered support for the view that individuals with maladaptive perfectionism are more likely to report less helpful coping such as dysfunctional styles of coping (Rice & Lapsley, 2001), emotion-based coping (Rice & Lapsley, 2001), avoidant coping (Dunkley, Sanislow, Grilo, & McGlashan, 2006), and ineffective coping (Wei, Heppner, Russell, & Young, 2006). At the same time, they are less likely to use more adaptive forms of coping such as problem-focused coping (Rice & Lapsley, 2001). In addition, the results of several studies have suggested that individuals with adaptive perfectionism are more likely to use more effective coping such as problem-focused coping (Rice & Lapsley, 2001) and task-oriented coping (O'Connor & O'Connor, 2003) and less likely to use unhelpful coping such as avoidance coping (O'Connor & O'Connor, 2003) and dysfunctional coping (Rice & Lapsley, 2001).
There is growing evidence (e.g., Dunkley et al., 2003, 2006; Wei et al., 2006) that the relationship between maladaptive perfectionism and psychological distress is partly mediated by unhealthy coping. However, few studies have addressed the potential mediation of coping in the relationship between adaptive perfectionism and psychological outcomes. Previous researchers investigating a coping-mediation model for perfectionism and psychological outcomes were hindered to some extent either by their failure to investigate adaptive forms of perfectionism (e.g., Wei et al., 2006) or by their use of perfectionism measures that were not designed to differentiate between adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism (e.g., Dunkley et al., 2003, 2006; Rice & Lapsley, 2001; Wei et al., 2006). Ashby and Rice (2002) criticized the use of measures designed to evaluate only maladaptive perfectionism and suggested using a measure of perfectionism designed specifically to assess adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism.
* The Current Study
The purpose of this study was to examine the coping processes and levels of anxiety among identified groups of maladaptive perfectionists, adaptive perfectionists, and nonperfectionists using a measure of coping, the Ways of Coping-Revised (WOC-R; Folkman & Lazarus, 1985), which identifies specific types of healthy and unhealthy coping processes; the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI; Spielberger, Gorsuch, Lushene, Vagg, & Jacobs, 1983); and the Almost Perfect Scale-Revised (APS-R; Slaney, Rice, Mobley, Trippi, & Ashby, 2001). The APS-R was chosen because it was designed to measure both adaptive and maladaptive dimensions of perfectionism and has been used to generate reliable scores for identification of groups of perfectionists (e.g., Rice & Ashby, 2007). In this study, we hypothesized the following:
1. Participants with adaptive perfectionism would have the lowest anxiety scores, followed by participants with nonperfectionism, and then participants with maladaptive perfectionism with the highest levels of anxiety.
2. Participants with maladaptive perfectionism would have higher levels of unhealthy coping processes (i.e., the Confrontative, Distancing, Accepting Responsibility, and Escape-Avoidance subscales of the WOC-R) than both participants with nonperfectionism and participants with adaptive perfectionism.
3. Participants with adaptive perfectionism would have higher levels of healthy coping processes (i.e., the Self-Controlling, Seeking Social Support, Planful Problem Solving, and Positive Reappraisal subscales of the WOC-R) than both participants with nonperfectionism and participants with adaptive perfectionism.
4. Coping processes would mediate the relationship between maladaptive perfectionism and anxiety (i.e., higher maladaptive perfectionism would be positively associated with unhealthy coping processes and negatively associated with healthy coping processes, which in turn would lead to higher anxiety).
5. Coping processes would mediate the relationship between adaptive perfectionism and anxiety (i.e., higher adaptive perfectionism would be associated with coping processes, which in turn would lead to lower anxiety levels).
Participants and Procedure
Participants were recruited from introductory undergraduate psychology research pools. They were able to choose from a range of various studies for course credit by accessing an online portal that tracked participation. Once participants chose to participate in our study, they clicked a hyperlink that connected them to an informed consent for the study. After agreeing to the study, they were then asked to fill out the survey instruments online in the order they are presented in the Instruments section. University institutional review board approval was obtained for this study. The total university undergraduate population was approximately 60% women and 40% men. Student ethnicity for the undergraduate population was approximately 38% Caucasian, 36% African American, 11% Asian American, 7% Hispanic American, 3% multiracial, 3% unknown, and less than 1% Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. (Percentages may not total 100 because of rounding.)
From a larger sample of 1,229 undergraduate students from a large urban southeastern university, we randomly selected 350 participants. A final sample of 329 participants remained after 21 were removed because of missing data. As a result of a clerical error, specific demographic data for the participants in this study were not available; however, overall demographic data were available for the larger sample. In the larger sample, 66% of participants identified as female, 33% identified as male, and 1% declined to identify their gender. Participants' ethnicity for the larger sample was as follows: 37.3% Caucasian, 33.5% African American, 10.1% multiracial, 7.2% Hispanic, 6.5% Asian American, 2.9% other ethnicity, and 0.2% Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander; 2.2% declined to identify their ethnicity. A multivariate analysis of variance comparing the sample for this study with the larger sample revealed no significant differences between the two groups on any of the study variables, Pillai-Barlett trace F(11, 1188) = 1.45,p > .05, suggesting reasonable similarity between the selected sample and the larger group.
APS-R (Slaney et al., 2001). The APS-R is a 23-item scale that measures the multidimensional construct of perfectionism through three subscales: Standards, Order, and Discrepancy. The Standards subscale is designed to measure personal standards, the Order subscale measures a participant's organization and need for order, and the Discrepancy subscale measures distress caused by the discrepancy between performance and standards. The Order subscale was administered but was not of interest and was not needed for classifying participants as reported elsewhere (e.g., Rice &Ashby, 2007). The APS-R uses a 7-point Likert-type scale from 1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree. Factor analyses of the APS-R have consistently supported the structure of the subscales. Factor loadings for the items ranged from .49 to .86 (Slaney et al., 2001). Convergent and discriminant validity of the subscales with college student samples have been demonstrated by several authors (Rice & Pence, 2006; Slaney et al., 2001). Rice, Vergara, and Aldea (2006) reported high Cronbach's alphas with a college student sample of .86 (Standards) and .93 (Discrepancy). The present study's Cronbach's alphas were .88 for the Standards subscale and .94 for the Discrepancy subscale (see Table 1).
STAI (Spielberger et al., 1983). Because of the emphasis on perfectionism, which is considered a more stable personality construct (Cox & Enns, 2003), only the Trait Anxiety subscale of the STAI was used, as in previous studies investigating anxiety and perfectionism (e.g., Hoff& Muehlenkamp, 2009). The Trait Anxiety subscale consists of 20 self-report items, has appeared in over 3,000 studies, and has been translated into more than 30 languages (Bieling, Antony, & Swinson, 1998). Participants respond to the items using a 4-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 = not at all to 4 = very much. Concurrent validity of the Trait Anxiety subscale has been demonstrated in previous studies (e.g., Spielberger et al., 1983; Vautier, 2004), with correlations with other measures of trait anxiety ranging from .41 to .85, and the subscale has also been shown to differentiate between clients with panic disorder with and without agoraphobia (Oei, Evans, & Crook, 1990). The Trait Anxiety subscale has excellent test-retest reliability (average r = .88) and internal consistency, with average Cronbach's alphas greater than .89 (Barnes, Harp, & Jung, 2002). The present study's Cronbach's alpha was .92 for the Trait Anxiety subscale (see Table 1).
WOC-R (Folkman & Lazarus, 1985). Noted as "the standard in the field" (Schwarzer & Schwarzer, 1996, p. 113) coping instrument, the WOC-R is a 66-item self-report instrument designed to measure a wide range of coping processes. Participants are expected to report a variety of processes, both healthy and unhealthy, using a 4-point Likert-type scale ranging from 0 = does not apply and/or not used to 3 = used a great deal. There are eight subscales measuring various healthy coping processes (Seeking Social Support, Planful Problem Solving, Self-Controlling, Positive Reappraisal) and unhealthy coping strategies (Confrontative, Distancing, Accepting Responsibility, Escape-Avoidance). The Seeking Social Support subscale measures healthy efforts individuals take to obtain additional informational and emotional support from others. The Planful Problem Solving subscale describes healthy and deliberate problem-focused actions to change the stressful situation. The Self-Controlling subscale measures healthy efforts to regulate emotions and behaviors. The Positive Reappraisal subscale measures healthy efforts individuals take to create positive meaning on the stressful event. The Confrontative subscale measures unhealthy efforts to alter the situation typically with expressions of hostility and risk taking. The Distancing subscale measures unhealthy efforts to detach from the situation and attempt to have a positive outlook on the situation. The Accepting Responsibility subscale (Folkman, Lazarus, Dunkel-Schetter, DeLongis, & Gruen, 1986), also called the Self-Blame subscale and considered an unhealthy coping process, measures the degree to which individuals blame their own role in the problem. The Escape-Avoidance subscale measures unhealthy wishful thinking and avoidance behaviors and contrasts with the Distancing subscale, which measures detachment. Acceptable construct validity of the subscales has been reported elsewhere (Folkman et al., 1986). Endler and Parker (1990) found positive correlations between the WOC-R subscales and another multidimensional coping instrument (the COPE Inventory; Carver, Scheier, & Weintraub, 1989) ranging from .20 to .77. Internal consistency estimates were between .56 and .76 (see Table 1), which were similar to previously published alphas in the .61 to .79 range (Folkman et al., 1986).
To identify participants with adaptive perfectionism, maladaptive perfectionism, and nonperfectionism, we followed the cutoff scores recommended in Rice and Ashby (2007) for the APS-R Standards and Discrepancy subscales. As with the results of studies with adults (Ashby, Rice, & Kutchins, 2008), Rice and Ashby offered evidence for natural clusters of individuals with maladaptive perfectionism, adaptive perfectionism, and nonperfectionism using cutoff scores for the APS-R Standards and Discrepancy subscales. Rice and Ashby found no evidence that the APS-R Order subscale was useful in the classification of perfectionists and so, consistent with these authors' recommendation, the subscale was not used in the current study. Rice and Ashby recommended using 42 as a cutoff score for perfectionism (with participants with APS-R Standards scores equal to or above 42 with either adaptive or maladaptive perfectionism and those with scores lower than 42 with nonperfectionism). Rice and Ashby further suggested using an APS-R Discrepancy score of 42 to distinguish between adaptive (with scores below 42) and maladaptive perfectionism (with scores equal to or above 42). Standard deviations for the APS-R scores by perfectionist group are presented to three decimal places in Table 1 so that readers can conduct secondary analyses.
We conducted a series of univariate analysis of variance (ANOVA) tests to address the hypotheses that participants with adaptive perfectionism would have lower levels of anxiety, lower levels of ineffective coping processes, and higher levels of effective coping processes scores than those with maladaptive perfectionism and nonperfectionism. The between-subjects variable was perfectionism (adaptive perfectionism, maladaptive perfectionism, and nonperfectionism). The dependent variables were the STAI and WOC-R subscales. Significant ANOVAs were followed up by Scheffe post hoc tests with significance set at the .05 level to determine specific differences between the three groups. As suggested by Haase, Ellis, and Ladany (1989), measures of magnitude of effect were calculated using Wolf's (1986) equation for group differences. Effect sizes were presented as Cohen's d, [R.sup.2], or eta-squared ([[eta].sup.2]) and designated as small (.20, .02, .01), medium (.50, .15, .06), or large (.80, .35, .14), respectively (Cohen, 1988, 1992).
To test the hypotheses that all eight coping processes mediate the relationship between both forms of perfectionism and anxiety, we used the Preacher and Hayes (2008) multiple mediation bootstrapping approach. Bootstrapping (for an explanation, see Diaconis & Efron, 1983) is a nonparametric approach that takes a large number of smaller samples of the original sample data. This approach examines both the combined indirect effect of all mediators and the effect of each individual mediator while controlling for the others. Contrary to other frequently used tests of mediation (e.g., Baron & Kenny, 1986), this approach does not rely on the assumption that the results are normally distributed (see Preacher & Hayes, 2008, for a discussion). This bootstrapping approach is an extension of the Sobel test (Sobel, 1982), which compares the indirect effect of an independent variable on a dependent variable with the null hypothesis, which equals zero. It is important to note the difference between mediation and indirect effects. The key feature between an indirect effect and a mediated effect is the association between the independent variable (adaptive or maladaptive perfectionism) and the dependent variable (anxiety). Mediation may exist if a significant association between these two variables exists; otherwise, an indirect effects model may be considered (see Preacher & Hayes, 2008).
In the current study, the indirect effect (ab) is the product of the effect of the independent variable (maladaptive perfectionism or adaptive perfectionism) on the mediator (coping processes) and the effect of the mediator on the dependent variable (anxiety). With the bootstrapping technique, 5,000 random samples of the original sample were taken from the data, replacing each value as it was sampled; the indirect effect (ab path) was computed in each sample. The point estimate of the indirect effect is the mean ab path value computed over the samples. A 95% confidence interval is then calculated; if the upper and lower bounds of these bias-corrected and accelerated (BCA) confidence intervals do not contain zero, the indirect effect is significant.
Initial correlations between the APS-R subscales, STAI Trait Anxiety subscale, and WOC-R subscales were conducted and are listed in Table 1. Next, we conducted a series of ANOVAs to test for differences in coping and anxiety between the adaptive, maladaptive, and nonperfectionist groups, and results were significant for all scales (see Table 2). The results from Scheffe post hoc analyses revealed significant differences between participants with adaptive perfectionism, maladaptive perfectionism, and nonperfectionism (see Table 2). First, significant differences were found between all three groups in the Trait Anxiety and Escape Avoidance subscale scores. Specifically, adaptive perfectionists had significantly lower Trait Anxiety scores and Escape-Avoidance scores than both maladaptive perfectionists (Cohen's d = .77 and .82, respectively) and nonperfectionists (Cohen's d = .39 and .54, respectively), and maladaptive perfectionists had significantly higher scores than nonperfectionists (Cohen's d = .40 and .35, respectively). Next, maladaptive perfectionists had significantly higher Confrontative and Accepting Responsibility scores than nonperfectionists (Cohen's d = .35 and .35, respectively) and significantly higher Accepting Responsibility, Distancing, and Self-Controlling scores than adaptive perfectionists (Cohen's d = .44, .35, and .36, respectively). Nonperfectionists had significantly lower Seeking Social Support, Planful Problem Solving, and Positive Reappraisal scores than both adaptive (Cohen's d = .40, .49, and .45, respectively) and maladaptive perfectionists (Cohen's d = .46, .51, and .53, respectively). Average STAI and WOC-R subscale scores by perfectionist group are listed in Table 2.
We used the bootstrapping procedure to determine if coping processes mediated the relationship between both dimensions of perfectionism and anxiety. The results of the analysis indicated that the total effect (denoted as c in Figure 1), [R.sup.2] = .15, F(1, 328) = 59.34,p < .001, of maladaptive perfectionism on anxiety was significant, suggesting that the possibility of mediation existed. Results of the bootstrapping analysis (see Table 3) showed that maladaptive perfectionism had a significant indirect effect through the eight coping styles with a 95% BCA confidence interval of .027 to .082. When the indirect effects of maladaptive perfectionism (discrepancy) on anxiety through the eight coping mediators were investigated independently of each other, only the Distancing, Self-Controlling, Accepting Responsibility, and Escape-Avoidance subscale scores had a 95% BCA confidence interval that did not include zero (see Table 3), with resulting mediators presented in Figure 1.
The total effect of adaptive perfectionism on anxiety was not significant, F(1, 328) = 0.79, p > .05, suggesting that mediation did not exist, although an indirect effect may still exist. The bootstrapping analysis indicated that adaptive perfectionism did not have a significant indirect effect on anxiety through the eight coping processes with a 95% BCA confidence interval of -.054 to .064 (see Table 3). When the indirect effects of adaptive perfectionism on anxiety through the eight coping mediators were investigated independently of each other, all of the coping processes had a 95% BCA confidence interval that included zero (see Table 3).
The results of this study are consistent with previous research that found differences between individuals with adaptive perfectionism, maladaptive perfectionism, and nonperfectionism (e.g., Rice et al., 2007). As hypothesized, these three groups differed significantly on measures of anxiety. Participants with maladaptive perfectionism were the worst off, with higher levels of anxiety than participants with adaptive perfectionism and nonperfectionism. This finding is consistent with previous research that found maladaptive perfectionism associated with higher levels of psychological distress (e.g., Dunkley et al., 2003).
Participants with maladaptive perfectionism were also more likely than those with adaptive perfectionism to use unhealthy coping processes such as distancing, accepting responsibility, and escape-avoidance, as suggested by the mean scores presented in Table 2. It is interesting that participants with adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism were equally likely to use positive reappraisal, seeking social support, and planful problem solving. Participants with maladaptive perfectionism, compared with those with nonperfectionism, more frequently used confrontative coping, seeking social support, accepting responsibility, escape-avoidance, planful problem solving, and positive reappraisal. Participants with adaptive perfectionism, compared with those with nonperfectionism, more frequently used seeking social support, planful problem solving, and positive reappraisal and were less likely to use escape--avoidance. Folkman et al. (1986) stated that coping processes can occur simultaneously and seem contradictory or can alternate between different processes. With this perspective in mind, one possible explanation for the similarity between adaptive perfectionism and maladaptive perfectionism in some specific coping processes is that individuals with maladaptive perfectionism may avoid, distract, and escape from anxious events and simultaneously ruminate about the event, thinking to themselves they will do better next time, or they plan for the future while still blaming themselves for their inability to meet their towering standards. This is consistent with conceptual literature (Hamachek, 1978) suggesting that individuals with maladaptive perfectionism do not believe their efforts will ever be good enough and, as a result, experience significant distress.
Participants with adaptive perfectionism had significantly lower levels of anxiety than participants with maladaptive perfectionism and nonperfectionism, as suggested by lower anxiety scores and large and medium effect size differences, respectively, in the current study. This is consistent with other studies that have found that adaptive perfectionism is associated with positive outcomes (e.g., Rice & Dellwo, 2002) and suggests that adaptive perfectionism may act as a buffer against psychological distress. Whereas adaptive perfectionists were as likely as maladaptive perfectionists to use positive reappraisal and planful problem-solving coping processes, they were significantly less likely to use more unhealthy coping processes such as escape--avoidance, accepting responsibility, and distancing. This suggests that adaptive perfectionists, on average, view potentially anxious events and situations with significantly less self-criticism and are able to focus more on how to improve in the future. This fits the conceptual view of adaptive perfectionists, which suggests that these individuals are more likely to gain a sense of satisfaction in their endeavors and much less likely to engage in self-criticism (Hamachek, 1978).
The results of this study also extended the findings of earlier research investigating the mediational role of coping in the relationship between maladaptive perfectionism and psychological distress (e.g., Dunkley et al., 2003; Wei et al., 2006). The use of ineffective coping processes mediated the relationship between maladaptive perfectionism and anxiety (see Figure 1). This result was generally consistent with the results of Dunkley et al. (2003) and Wei et al. (2006), which suggested that ineffective coping partially mediated the relationship between maladaptive perfectionism and psychological distress. However, the results of this study were in contrast to Rice and Lapsley's (2001) study, which did not find support for a coping-mediation model for maladaptive perfectionism and psychological distress in a similar sample of college students.
Higher usage of more effective coping processes did not mediate the relationship between adaptive perfectionism and anxiety as suggested by confidence intervals that included zero for each coping process (see Table 3). These non-significant results, even with the use of the APS-R, which was designed to measure both maladaptive and adaptive perfectionism, are consistent with the results of other studies that found no support for the mediational role of coping with adaptive perfectionism (e.g., Dunkley et al., 2003). Although the results of this study suggested that individuals with adaptive perfectionism use more effective coping processes, no support was offered for the mediational role of coping in the relationship between adaptive perfectionism and anxiety. Future researchers should continue to look at more complex models that include additional measures of coping and other psychological outcomes.
Participants with adaptive perfectionism used more healthy forms of coping processes and fewer unhealthy coping processes compared with participants with maladaptive perfectionism and nonperfectionism, as suggested by the mean score differences noted in Table 2. In addition, participants with adaptive perfectionism were found to have the lowest levels of anxiety, followed by participants with nonperfectionism and, last, participants with maladaptive perfectionism, who had the highest levels of anxiety. Although coping processes were not found to mediate the relationship between adaptive perfectionism and anxiety, four coping processes fully mediated the relationship between maladaptive perfectionism and anxiety. This study offers support for the use of perfectionism instruments that measure adaptive and maladaptive forms of perfectionism when working with adults with anxiety.
This study has several limitations. First, the data analyzed in the study were self-report data; as a result, self-report bias is a possible factor even though confidentiality was ensured for participants. Second, this study used a sample of convenience. In addition, the study used a correlational design, which did not allow for making causal inferences. Longitudinal studies that measure multiple points in time would assist in making predictive inferences. Last, specific demographic data for individual participants in the study were not available, which made it impossible to look at potential differences (e.g., ethnic differences).
Implications for Counseling Practice and Research
On the basis of the study's findings, there are several important implications for counselors. First, counselors should view perfectionism as a multidimensional construct with both adaptive and maladaptive components. Counselors may want to refrain from assuming that all perfectionism is pathological (e.g., Slaney & Ashby, 1996). For instance, in this study, participants with adaptive perfectionism had significantly lower levels of anxiety than both participants with maladaptive perfectionism and those with nonperfectionism, suggesting a mental health advantage for adaptive perfectionism. Consistent with this finding, adaptive perfectionism was also associated with the use of more effective forms of coping. As a result, counselors should not assume that a client's perfectionism is necessarily problematic. Counselors may be best served by assessing whether their clients have adaptive or maladaptive perfectionism. The APS-R, a brief instrument, may help counselors classify clients with the use of simple cutoff scores for various populations (e.g., Ashby et al., 2008; Rice & Ashby, 2007; Rice, Ashby, & Gilman, 2011). When working with clients with adaptive perfectionism, counselors may want to help clients maintain the use of effective coping strategies.
In contrast, counselors who find themselves conducting therapeutic work with clients with maladaptive perfectionism may anticipate clients' tendencies to use ineffective coping processes that result in higher levels of anxiety. In addition to the traditional treatments for addressing the cognitive beliefs of perfectionism (e.g., dichotomous thinking, hypervigilant and biased monitoring of performance) in treating clients with anxiety (e.g., Egan & Hine, 2008), counselors may want to help their clients with maladaptive perfectionism cope with stressful events more effectively. Results of this study suggest that the distancing and escape-avoidance coping strategies more commonly used by individuals with maladaptive perfectionism lead to increased anxiety. These avoidance-based coping strategies are consistent with the practice of procrastination identified by early theorists (e.g., Hamachek, 1978) who noted that individuals with maladaptive perfectionism may be tormented by the idea of taking on a task or addressing a potential stressor. Because their standards are very high and rigidly imposed, these clients may be "plagued by a sense of helplessness" (Burns, 1980, p. 41) that leads to avoidance rather than engagement in the face of stressors. Interventions to help clients with mal-adaptive perfectionism be more active in their coping (e.g., beginning with initial steps, breaking down active coping into small and easily accomplished tasks) may help these clients use their planful problem-solving coping that they appear to be capable of, as evidenced by their WOC-R scores, which are similar to those of individuals with adaptive perfectionism.
Maladaptive perfectionists' coping strategies of self-control and accepting responsibility also seem to lead to increased anxiety. Counselors would do well to stay attuned to these clients' tendency for intense self-criticism (e.g., Hamachek, 1978; Pacht, 1984). This tendency to use overly harsh self-judgments may render otherwise reasonable coping mechanisms (e.g., accepting responsibility) detrimental. If a client with maladaptive perfectionism holds the view that "I am responsible and my responses or coping actions are less than perfect," the result may well be more anxiety rather than less. Counselors may want to tailor their interventions to help these clients minimize tendencies toward self-blame by working with the clients' overly rigid standards, erroneous attributions about responsibility for perceived imperfection, and resulting sense of failure.
In summary, this study contributes to a growing literature on the positive and negative aspects of perfectionism, with particular emphasis on how coping is related to differential levels of anxiety. Adaptive perfectionists may be truly adaptive in that they may experience less anxiety than either maladaptive perfectionists or nonperfectionists. Counselors who work with clients who are struggling with maladaptive perfectionism may want to focus treatment on ineffective coping that appears to lead these clients to increased levels of anxiety.
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Philip B. Gnilka, Counseling and Human Development Services, Kent State University; Jeffrey S. Ashby and Christina M. Noble, Department of Counseling and Psychological Services, Georgia State University. Philip B. Gnilka is now at Department of Counseling and Special Education, DePaul University. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Philip B. Gnilka, Department of Counseling and Special Education, DePaul University, 2320 North Kenmore Avenue, Chicago, IL 60614 (e-mail: email@example.com).
TABLE 1 Correlations Between Almost Perfect Scale-Revised (APS-R) Subscales, State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) Trait Anxiety Subscale, and Ways of Coping-Revised Subscales Measure [alpha] 1 2 3 1. APS-R Standards .88 7.716 2. APS-R Discrepancy .94 -0.04 17.370 3. STAI Trait Anxiety .92 0.05 0.39 * 5.986 4. Confrontative Coping .62 0.04 0.11 0.30 * 5. Distancing .60 -0.06 0.21 * 0.41 * 6. Self-Controlling .56 0.07 0.15 * 0.41 * 7. Seeking Social Support .76 0.20 * -0.03 0.22 * 8. Accepting Responsibility .58 0.06 0.21 * 0.39 * 9. Escape--Avoidance .74 -0.08 0.41 * 0.48 * 10. Planful Problem Solving .67 0.27 * -0.06 0.25 * 11. Positive Reappraisal .76 0.27 * 0.02 0.31 * Measure 4 5 6 7 1. APS-R Standards 2. APS-R Discrepancy 3. STAI Trait Anxiety 4. Confrontative Coping 3.580 5. Distancing 0.24 * 3.372 6. Self-Controlling 0.30 * 0.45 * 3.710 7. Seeking Social Support 0.44 * 0.12 * 0.21 * 4.221 8. Accepting Responsibility 0.32 * 0.31 * 0.44 * 0.10 9. Escape-Avoidance 0.40 * 0.41 * 0.39 * 0.19 * 10. Planful Problem Solving 0.38 * 0.16 * 0.40 * 0.42 * 11. Positive Reappraisal 0.36 * 0.29 * 0.47 * 0.42 * Measure 8 9 10 11 1. APS-R Standards 2. APS-R Discrepancy 3. STAI Trait Anxiety 4. Confrontative Coping 5. Distancing 6. Self-Controlling 7. Seeking Social Support 8. Accepting Responsibility 2.863 9. Escape-Avoidance 0.41 * 4.892 10. Planful Problem Solving 0.34 * 0.14 * 3.585 11. Positive Reappraisal 0.39 * 0.25 * 0.60 * 4.966 Note. N= 329. Standard deviations are listed diagonally and are presented to three decimal places for possible secondary analyses. * p < .05. TABLE 2 Average State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) Trait Anxiety Subscale Scores and Ways of Coping-Revised Subscale Scores by Perfectionism Category Maladaptive Adaptive Perfectionist Perfectionist (M) (n = 97) (A) (n = 125) Measure M SD M SD STAI Trait Anxiety 46.22 4.42 50.77 7.07 Healthy coping Self-Controlling 9.78 3.49 11.13 3.93 Seeking Social Support 9.66 4.07 9.95 4.34 Planful Problem Solving 10.38 3.54 10.47 3.51 Positive Reappraisal 10.79 4.91 11.25 5.23 Unhealthy coping Confrontative 7.85 3.46 8.89 3.53 Distancing 6.49 3.15 7.65 3.54 Accepting Responsibility 5.35 2.95 6.61 2.84 Escape-Avoidance 7.33 4.48 11.44 4.58 Non perfectionist (N) (n = 107) Measure M SD F p STAI Trait Anxiety 48.22 5.67 17.34 < .05 Healthy coping Self-Controlling 10.19 3.66 3.77 < .05 Seeking Social Support 8.03 4.06 6.60 < .05 Planful Problem Solving 8.68 3.45 8.95 < .05 Positive Reappraisal 8.70 4.43 8.26 < .05 Unhealthy coping Confrontative 7.64 3.68 3.57 < .05 Distancing 7.40 3.37 3.83 < .05 Accepting Responsibility 5.64 2.65 5.71 < .05 Escape-Avoidance 9.80 4.74 22.67 < .05 [[eta] Measure .sup.2] Scheffe STAI Trait Anxiety .10 A < N < M Healthy coping Self-Controlling .02 A < M Seeking Social Support .04 N < (A = M) Planful Problem Solving .05 N < (A = M) Positive Reappraisal .05 N < (A = M) Unhealthy coping Confrontative .03 N < M Distancing .02 A < M Accepting Responsibility .03 (A = N) < M Escape-Avoidance .12 A < N < M TABLE 3 Bootstrapped Confidence Intervals for the Total and Specific Indirect Effects of Coping Processes as Mediators of Maladaptive and Adaptive Perfectionism and Anxiety Product of ab Path Coefficients Mediator Variable B SE [beta] Z p Maladaptive perfectionism Confrontative .001 .002 .002 4.29 .77 Distancing .011 .005 .033 0.30 .02 Self-Controlling .006 .004 .017 2.40 .10 Seeking Social Support -.001 .002 -.003 -0.48 .63 Accepting Responsibility .009 .005 .025 1.95 .05 Escape-Avoidance .026 .009 .077 3.10 .00 Planful Problem Solving -.002 .002 -.004 -0.82 .41 Positive Reappraisal .000 .001 .000 0.24 .81 Total .051 .012 .147 4.29 .00 Adaptive perfectionism Confrontative .001 .002 .001 0.25 .80 Distancing -.008 .008 -.011 -1.07 .29 Self-Controlling .006 .006 .008 1.05 .29 Seeking Social Support .012 .009 .015 1.29 .20 Accepting Responsibility .007 .007 .009 1.01 .31 Escape-Avoidance -.018 .013 -.023 -1.41 .16 Planful Problem Solving .010 .013 .013 0.77 .44 Positive Reappraisal .000 .013 -.001 -0.03 .97 Total .008 .029 .010 0.29 .78 Bootstrapped 95% BCA Confidence Intervals Mediator Variable Lower Upper Maladaptive perfectionism Confrontative -.003 .006 Distancing .003 .025 Self-Controlling .000 .018 Seeking Social Support -.007 .002 Accepting Responsibility .002 .020 Escape-Avoidance .011 .047 Planful Problem Solving -.009 .001 Positive Reappraisal -.002 .004 Total .027 .082 Adaptive perfectionism Confrontative -.004 .011 Distancing -.032 .005 Self-Controlling -.003 .026 Seeking Social Support -.003 .035 Accepting Responsibility -.003 .025 Escape-Avoidance -.051 .004 Planful Problem Solving -.015 .037 Positive Reappraisal -.029 .027 Total -.054 .064 Note. N = 329. Maladaptive perfectionism is measured with the Almost Perfect Scale-Revised (APS-R) Discrepancy subscale; adaptive perfectionism is measured with the APS-R Standards subscale; anxiety is measured with the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory Trait Anxiety subscale; coping processes are measured with the Ways of Coping-Revised subscales; ab path = the indirect effect; BCA = bias-corrected and accelerated.
Please note: Some tables or figures were omitted from this article.
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|Author:||Gnilka, Philip B.; Ashby, Jeffrey S.; Noble, Christina M.|
|Publication:||Journal of Counseling and Development|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2012|
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