A study measured three types of perfectionism: self-oriented, or a desire to be perfect; socially prescribed, or a desire to live up to others’ expectations; and other-oriented, or holding others to unrealistic standards. A person living with an other-oriented perfectionist might feel criticized by the perfectionist spouse for not doing household chores exactly the “right” way. Socially prescribed perfectionism is “My self-esteem is contingent on what other people think.”
Perfectionists tend to devalue their accomplishments, so that every time a goal is achieved, the high lasts only a short time, like “a gas tank with a hole in it.”
There are also different ways perfectionism manifests. Some perfectionists are the sleeping-bag-toting self-flagellants, always pushing themselves forward. But others actually fall behind on work, unable to complete assignments unless they’re, well, perfect. Or they might self-sabotage, handicapping their performance ahead of time. They’re the ones partying until 2 a.m. the night before the final, so that when the C rolls in, there’s a ready excuse. Anything to avoid facing your own imperfections.
Olga Khazan writing in The Atlantic