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The Traumatized Perfectionist: Understanding the Role of Perfectionism in Post-Traumatic Reactions to Stress

Gordon L. Flett, Danielle S. Molnar and Paul L. Hewitt

There is now a voluminous literature on the role of perfectionism in psychopathology, but one topic has been almost entirely neglected – how perfectionists respond following exposure to traumatic stressors. The relatively few research studies conducted thus far are summarized below. First, however, we note some of the reasons why there should be a positive association between perfectionism and post-traumatic symptoms. Traumatic experiences may be responded to quite negatively by people with elevated perfectionism because perfectionists often have a strong need for control and they are highly stressed by events beyond their control (for a discussion see Hewitt & Flett, 2002). Moreover, perfectionists tend to feel overly responsible and have a propensity to experience self-blame and self-criticism following negative outcomes and events. The vulnerable perfectionist who actually makes a serious mistake that escalates into a traumatic experience is someone who most likely will find it quite difficult to stop ruminating and he or she will find it difficult to live with the mistake and their sense of inefficacy.