The Cost of Perfection

Your perfectionist tendencies may be a handicap. Rigidity may lead to emotional and physical problems.

By Amy Wilson, published on January 1, 2000 - last reviewed on September 26, 2005

Do you see issues in black and white or shades of gray? The way you
handle conflict at work colors not only your feelings about your job, but
also your health.

People who think in rigid, evaluative "absolutist" (AB) terms -- like
perfectionists and control freaks -- are more susceptible to emotional and
physical problems than those who are open-minded and flexible, or
"non-absolutist," says Alistair Ostell, lecturer in psychology at the
University of Bradford Management Center in England.

AB thinkers get upset if things don't go their way, which impedes
their problem-solving and coping skills, he explains. This may translate
into health complications such as insomnia, heart palpitations, chronic
fatigue and high blood pressure. Also, says Ostell, "when people are
angry, they increase secretion of the [stress] hormone cortisol, which
tends to suppress the immune system, making them vulnerable to

In Ostell's study, published in the British Journal of Medical
Psychology, British "headteachers," or school principals, deemed
non-absolutist were in better health, were less stressed and enjoyed
their jobs more than absolutist principals. Though the study took place
in the classroom, Ostell warns that AB thinking occurs across jobs and
personality types.

People with an AB attitude may find it hard to change their
mind-set, says Ostell. But he suggests they consider the link between
their attitude and its ill effects -- and then try to go with the flow when
ever possible.