In the words of Stoltz & Ashby “adaptive perfectionism is characterized as a normal, healthy type of perfectionism and is defined by deriving satisfaction from achievements made from intense effort but tolerating the imperfections…”
They tend to understand that it’s simply impossible to achieve complete perfection in everything they set out to achieve. Instead, they aim for a high standard of work in those tasks they know they can do well, and that play to their unique strengths.
Therefore, they are ‘adaptive’ to the situations, experiences and projects they’re faced with at work, and tend to be comfortable in delegating duties they feel are best placed with other people, are more tolerant of imperfection and are less critical of both themselves and others.
The maladaptive perfectionist has a less healthy attitude to successful achievement. They tend to berate themselves when they don’t meet their own standard and maladaptive perfectionism is consistently linked to depression, anxiety and increased levels of stress.
So, both adaptive and maladaptive perfectionists strive for high standards, however, failure to reach those standards tends to be far more stressful for maladaptive perfectionists. This is because they are more inclined to set expectations of themselves so high that failure is almost always inevitable, resulting in self-doubt. Fear of making an error is a key driver for avoiding the tasks they feel are complex or do not play to their strengths and interests.
Even if maladaptive perfectionists manage to achieve the high benchmarks they set themselves, in their mind, it is never good enough. Therefore, an attitude of ‘more should have been achieved and more must be achieved next time’ prevails. This can be hugely damaging both in our personal and professional lives – they tend to constantly feel like a failure, and experience dissatisfaction across many aspects of their life.
This Ted talk may be of interest :