Your PARENTS can make you a harmful perfectionist, study finds

Your PARENTS can make you a harmful perfectionist – and for women it’s all about their father, study finds

  • Perfectionism in women is uniquely predicted by high paternal overprotection
  • But in men, it’s uniquely predicted by high maternal overprotection
  • The reasons behind the results are not known but, with women, it could be due to them not feeling able to be as open with their fathers when growing up

Harmful perfectionism in women may be more linked to her relationship with her father than her mother, according to a study.

And the same tendencies in men may be more linked to his relationship with his mother than his father, the researchers found.

The team studied three types of perfectionism: self-oriented, other-oriented, and socially prescribed perfectionism (SPP).

Self-oriented perfectionism is where a person demands perfection of themselves, other-oriented perfectionism is the requirement for others to be perfect, and socially prescribed perfectionism is the person’s belief that others require perfection of them.

Are you a perfectionist? Blame your mum and dad! People with overprotective parents are more likely to strive for excellence (stock image)

It’s known as one of the most problematic periods in an infant’s life, dreaded by new parents.

Now, King’s College London researchers may have finally discovered what triggers the so-called ‘terrible twos’ – a problematic developmental period characterised by tantrums, shouting, crying and repeated use of the word ‘no’. 

The experts found a link between fathers who experience too much stress in the months following the birth of their child, and the child’s subsequent development of emotional and behavioural problems at age two. 

It’s possible that stressed dads have a ‘negative parenting style’ that causes their child’s problems, according to the researchers.

Of the three types, SPP is seen as particularly damaging, with lots of research demonstrating ‘consistent and strong associations with myriad adverse mental health outcomes, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and interpersonal problems’, said the researchers, from the University of British Columbia in Canada.

‘People with socially prescribed perfectionism have a perception that others demand and require them to be perfect,’ said lead author Sabrina Ge.

”Others’ can refer to specific people, e.g. a partner or a parent, but it can also refer to people not known to the person, or people in general e.g. the world.’ For their study the psychologists gave 456 participants a questionnaire which assessed their levels of the three different types of perfectionism.

They were asked to rate on a scale how much they agreed with statements measuring self-oriented perfectionism such as ‘One of my goals is to be perfect in everything I do’; other oriented perfectionism e.g. ‘I cannot stand to see people close to me make mistakes’; and SPP e.g. ‘The people around me expect me to succeed in everything I do’.

They were then given a further questionnaire, the Parental Bonding Instrument, which assesses a person’s subjective experience of being parented during their first 16 years.

It assesses two so-called ‘parental bonding behaviours’: parental care e.g. ‘was affectionate to me’ and parental overprotection e.g. ‘tried to control everything I did’.

The researchers found that socially prescribed perfectionism in women was uniquely predicted by high paternal overprotection and low paternal care – but not by maternal overprotection or care (stock image)

Participants completed two versions of the questionnaire – one for their mother and one for their father.

Analysing the results together, the researchers found that SPP in women was uniquely predicted by high paternal overprotection and low paternal care – but not by maternal overprotection or care.

And SPP in men was uniquely predicted by high maternal overprotection and low maternal care.

Ms Ge, a graduate clinical psychology student, said the reasons behind the results are not known but, with women, it could be due to them not feeling able to be as open with their fathers when growing up.

‘Some research suggests that, in general, daughters feel more emotionally distant from their fathers and have more difficulty speaking with them, which may create what we call ‘parent-child asynchrony’ – where a child’s underlying needs, such as security and warmth, are not met – that may lead to their development of SPP.

‘However, more research on this is needed.

‘With regard to the findings on mothers and sons, one study suggests that, compared to fathers, mothers may be more over-involved in their son’s lives, thus potentially thwarting their development of autonomy.

‘This can lead to sons’ overreliance on external validation and others’ approval for self-esteem, which is seen in SPP.’ 

The findings are published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. 

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Across six studies two researchers, Dr Shai Davidai from the New School for Social Research and Professor Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University, examined the idea that deepest regrets come from not pursuing our most ambitious dreams.

They found that the these deep-rooted regrets stem from such things as not pursuing a loved one, abandoning hopes of playing a musical instrument and not travelling the world.

These relate to what is dubbed a person’s ‘ideal-self’ – the image every person has in their head of who they are and the type of person they want to be.

Other examples included (ages of anonymous volunteers in brackets):

• I sold [my shares in] Netflix and Facebook before the huge run-up after 2011′ (29 years old)

• ‘About 10 years ago I went on a big diet and lost 53 lbs I held the weight off for years […] I thought I would never gain the weight back and totally regret all the food mistakes I’ve made’ (43 years old)

• ‘My freshman year of college I was offered an incredible opportunity to do my own research in two different countries. I didn’t go because my family didn’t want me to go and I had concerns over finances to do with my apartment, funding it and my pet’ (22 years old)  

• ‘My biggest regret was not going to graduate school when I had the opportunity. I have found success elsewhere and raised my family how I wanted to, but I have always regretted not going’ (54 years old) 

• ‘My biggest regret in life was not pursuing my dream of singing. I followed a traditional route instead and became a teacher. The dream remains… the what if!’ (62 years old)

• ‘I regret not having more fun in high school’ (18 years old)

• ‘I regret not having gotten involved in anything extracurricular during my high school years. I was in the national honour society but that hardly counts (33 years old)

• ‘I regret not keeping in touch with my best friend in college. It pains me that we lost touch’ (26 years old)

• ‘I think that I did not pursue a career in acting when I was younger. I feel like I gave up on my dream because doubts others had. I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self to believe in my talent more.’ (35 years old)

• ‘Letting go of a girl that was an incredible match for me in almost every aspect imaginable because I was in a relationship with someone who I knew wasn’t right for me’ (30 years old)

• ‘The biggest regret was to remarry and leave a job, home and state I was happy with. I made a terrible mistake and gave up way to much to alleviate a loneliness I was feeling. What a fool I was’ (71 years old)

• ‘Many years ago when my husband and I first married, we nearly bought our dream house. It wasn’t ideal but we loved it. We decided not to buy it as we felt pressure from our parents. I regret not stepping up, being an adult and going with my gut feeling. I regret letting our parents influence us so much. I also regret it because not only would it have been a great investment.’ (46 years old) 

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