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The manifestations of perfectionistic self-presentation in a clinical sample Habke, Amy Marie


Perfectionism has long been recognized as an important personality trait that has a significant impact on emotional and social well-being. More recently, it has been recognized that there is a stylistic aspect to perfectionism that focuses on a desire to appear perfect. This perfectionistic self-presentation, and in particular, the desire for concealment of imperfections, has been related to psychopathology in past research. However, it is proposed that perfectionistic self-presentation presents a particular concern from a clinical perspective because of it's indirect effects on pathology; a desire to conceal imperfections is especially problematic to the extent that it impacts the experience of therapy and the therapy relationship. The current study examined the cognitive, affective/physiological, and behavioral manifestations of perfectionistic self-presentation in a clinical sample. Ninety clinical subjects completed self-report measures of perfectionistic self-presentation, trait perfectionism, impression management, mood, appraisals, and self-handicapping. A brief structured assessment interview that included a discussion of past mistakes, was conducted by trained clinical interviewers. Physiological monitors recorded heart rate and skin conductance level throughout the interview, and the interview was videotaped. Post-interview measures of mood, appraisals, and self-handicapping, were also completed. Results at the bivariate level showed that the self-protective dimensions of perfectionistic self-presentation were associated with more distress both prior to and following the interview, higher heart rate and greater change in heart rate when discussing mistakes (and greater skin conductance for men), greater claims of disability from self-handicaps, and appraisals of the interviewer as both threatening (wanting more than the participant could provide) and disappointed following the interview. Regression analyses showed that the desire to avoid disclosing imperfections was a unique predictor of appraisals of threat over and above demographics, trait perfectionism, and other measures of distress (interaction anxiety and depression) and impression management, and of appraisals of the interviewer as disappointed following the interview, over and above demographics and trait perfectionism. The block change score for perfectionistic self-presentation predicting interviewer satisfaction was marginally significant over and above emotional distress and impression managment. The desire to avoid displaying imperfections was a unique predictor of lower threat appraisals. Perfectionistic self-presentation also predicted higher heart rate when discussing errors, over and above demographics and other measures of distress and impression management, and greater change in heart rate from relaxation; this relation held when controlling for demographics, trait perfectionism, and emotional distress and impression management. Perfectionistic self-presentation did not predict defensive behaviors and was not a unique predictor of self-reported negative affect. The results are discussed in terms of the implications for therapy and the therapeutic alliance.

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