The Types Of Perfectionists That Have Existed Across Generations

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mirrored image of perfectionist woman in a hat

Nowadays, everyone obsesses over generational differences and regularly conflates them with typical life cycle changes.

Still, among my clients, I see some clear patterns that are related to their life experiences, which, of course, have generational aspects.

More specifically, I can see how working with the perfectionist personality type across generations differs. And, this has a bearing on the content of our coaching sessions.

RELATED: How To Stop Being A Perfectionist — Plus, 6 Downsides To Being One

How does the perfectionist personality type show up across generations? 

Who is a perfectionist?

Perfectionist traits and tendencies are more prevalent in (but not limited to) people who are intellectuals, professionals, and, in general, more educated.

This group is particularly goal and performance-oriented. Thus, it's not surprising that they focus on meeting particular standards — for example, the definitions of perfection.

However, for some people, this orientation becomes problematic and even dysfunctional in some cases. The latter are best treated by therapists.

Seeing a coach or taking part in some daily self-care can help those with milder forms of perfectionism.

What are common issues among people with a perfectionist personality type? 

It's not always obvious that perfectionism is an issue for someone. But, with a bit of digging, it becomes evident that it's an underlying driver of the problem that surfaces in a person's life.

These people typically start off complaining about stress and being overworked, procrastinating, being stuck or trapped, or feeling frustrated and demoralized.

Frequently, they believe their problem stems from someone else's behavior. It's their shortcomings or the effect they have on their own success or happiness.

The most common indicators of underlying perfectionism in these instances are inflexible thinking, negative self-judgment, and self-criticism.

In general, this kind of reasoning creates mental blocks and gets in the way of the perfectionist's personal fulfillment.

In addition, fear of failure and harsh critiques from others can stymie their ability to authentically define intentions for themselves, prioritize among options, and take action.

There's evidence that perfectionists differ across generations.

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Types of Perfectionists

There are different levels of perfectionism. 

A pair of research psychologists, Thomas Curran and Andrew P. Hill, categorize perfectionists in 3 categories, according to the source or reference point from which they derive their ideas and beliefs about what is perfect:

Self-oriented perfectionists are driven by their own self-imposed impossible standards.

Socially prescribed perfectionists seek approval from others who they believe are harshly judging them.

Other-oriented perfectionists impose unrealistic standards on others and harshly judge them for not fulfilling the standards.

Interestingly, perfectionists of certain generations cluster into particular categories.

There are also self-described perfectionists.

The website Psych Tests published findings from a study of self-selected respondents who self-described themselves according to a preset group of perfectionist attributes.

Implicit sample selection and measurement issues aside, their results point to some interesting and plausible distinctions across generations.

Younger generations, Y and Z, were more likely to fall into the socially-oriented category as compared to baby boomers, who strongly aligned with the self-oriented group. Generation X-ers are in the middle.

Compared to Boomers, younger respondents were much more concerned about what their families, partners, and others thought. They also said that they were only proud of themselves if others recognized their accomplishments.

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Excessive attention and deference to social media were seen as likely influences.

In sum, younger perfectionists orient themselves according to external cues, while Baby Boomer perfectionists are guided by excessively demanding personally defined ideas and beliefs.

What are the implications for coaches and other service providers?

Every coaching situation is different. Still, the research findings and my own experience suggest some approaches are likely to be more helpful in similar circumstances or with similar clients.

All other things being equal, working with a Baby Boomer perfectionist is likely to be more straightforward than with a Millennial because there are fewer variables at play and less external influence.

For example, thought work is apt to be more productive and sustainable with a Boomer than a Millennial.

The Boomer is more likely to take responsibility for their thoughts and actions and to feel personal gratification for their progress without the need for external recognition.

Compared to a Millennial, the progress of a Boomer perfectionist is less likely to regress once they leave a session because they engage less with social media and are more directly responsible for the thoughts that guide them.

It's important to consider the type of approach and expected timeline when working with the perfectionist personality type of different generations.

Younger perfectionists tend to be more enmeshed in social cues and rewards, which in itself creates additional challenges and implies potentially more gradual progress.

RELATED: 5 Ways To Ease Unhealthy Perfectionism

Patricia Bonnard, Ph.D., ACC is a certified International Coaching Federation (ICF) leadership coach and a certified Martha Beck life coach. For more information, contact her or visit her website.

This article was originally published at starchaser-healingarts.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.