The Scary Psychology Of 'Dark' Perfectionism

05/22/2015 08:28 am ET | Updated May 22, 2015

It's one thing to expect the best from yourself. But it's a completely different thing to expect the best from everyone around you.

Perfectionists, though often high-achieving and highly motivated individuals, can set almost impossibly lofty goals for themselves. Psychologists have linked perfectionism to procrastination, depression and anxiety, compulsive behaviors and even poor physical health.

New research suggests perfectionists aren't all created equal -- and some types may be susceptible to other negative traits.

A study published this month in the Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment identified a type of perfectionism that's characterized by setting unreasonable standards not for oneself but for others.

"Other-oriented perfectionism is a 'dark' form of perfectionism positively associated with narcissistic, antisocial and uncaring personality characteristics," Joachim Stoeber, a psychologist at the University of Kent and the study's lead author, wrote in a statement.

Other-oriented perfectionists are distinct from the two other types of perfectionists, which we tend to hear about more often. Self-oriented perfectionists have unreasonably high personal standards and expect themselves to be perfect, while socially prescribed perfectionists believe that they need to be perfect in order to be accepted by others.

In previous studies, Stoeber and colleagues have shown that "dark" perfectionists are often judgmental and manipulative of others, and struggle to maintain healthy relationships.

For the new study, the same researchers asked 229 university students about their sense of humor, perfectionistic traits and social behaviors.

They found that while self-oriented perfectionists tend to have a sense of humor that enhances their social interactions, other-oriented perfectionists display an aggressive sense of humor and a tendency to tell jokes at the expense of others. Unsurprisingly, they also show little concern for social norms.

While you may not relate to the description of the dark perfectionist, many of us are overly critical of others to a certain degree.

"Most people have medium levels of other-oriented perfectionism, a few have high levels and a few low levels," Stoeber told The Huffington Post. "The same goes for other forms of perfectionism."

The takeaway? If you're going to be a perfectionist, try to focus those sky-high standards on yourself -- and spare the rest of us.

"The focus of perfectionists plays an important role in determining how prosocial or antisocial they are," the study's authors write. "If perfectionists focus on themselves, they can be prosocial. If they focus on others -- whether they have perfectionistic expectations of others or they believe others have perfectionistic expectations of them -- they tend to be antisocial."

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