Self critical Perfectionism among Psychology Students, A Qualitative Study

Student thesis: Master thesis (including HD thesis)

  • Matilde Karlsen
4. term, Psychology, Master (Master Programme)
The aim of this thesis is an analysis of how self-critical perfectionism impact the well-being of psychology students based on a minor qualitative study. The interest for this area stems from a report by Zafiri (2018) concerning the well-being of Danish psychology students, which indicates, that many psychology students fail to thrive. It states, that aspects such as a significant performance pressure and an imbalance between time of study and spare time have negative consequences for the wellbeing of the students. These aspects are, among others, related to self-critical perfectionism, for which reason this thesis analyze and discuss the possible connection between the lack of well-being among Danish psychology students and self-critical perfectionism. Since perfectionism is best understood as a multidimensional construct that can vary across several areas, the thesis confines itself to concern, whether and how self-critical perfectionism affects the well-being of psychology students within academic settings.

This thesis has a methodological outset in Gadamer’s hermeneutic, and thus emphasize the interpretation of language as a key to understanding phenomena. The analysis of this thesis is based on interviews of two psychology graduate students from Danish universities, and is organized on the basis of a thematic analysis of each interview. The analysis consists of five themes, which all are related to self-critical perfectionism, an enhanced stress level and reduced well-being. The themes are as follows: 1) An internal performance pressure which involves a constant effort to meet exceedingly high standards. This causes a relentless guilty conscience about not spending every moment on study related activities. 2) Self-criticism which concerns self-critical tendencies and a lack of being able to be satisfied with your own performance. 3) Sensitivity for performance related situations, for instance anticipatory stress and sensitivity for others criticism regarding examinations. 4) The discrepancy between the actual and ideal self, which is based on my interviewees’ experience of how they are, against how they feel, they should be. 5) A self-esteem contingent on performances which involves, that my interviewees’ self-esteem is dependent on, whether or not they achieve and maintain an extremely high academic performance level.

The discussion is initiated with an assessment of factors, which have contributed to the development of self-critical perfectionism among my interviewees. On the basis of this discussion it is established, that significant causes of the development of selfcritical perfectionism exist within the contexts of family and education. Thereupon the generalizability of my results is discussed focusing on, whether they are relevant and useful for well-being of other target groups. This discussion stresses, that my results can be generalized to other students, e.g. Danish psychology students in general, medical students and high school students. In continuation the interventions aimed against reducing the prevalence self-critical perfectionism and its consequences among students are discussed. These initiatives involve interventions focused on the facilitation of self-compassion, a reduction of the importance and exposure of grades within the educational system and in classrooms environments, a repeal of grades for the benefit of passed/not passed evaluations, articulation of the expectations of the university to students as well as treatment of self-critical perfectionism focusing on the facilitation of positive reframing as a coping strategy among selfcritical perfectionist et cetera.

In conclusion this thesis states, that self-critical perfectionism impacts the well-being of many psychology students to a great extent. This manifest itself, among other things, as a significant academic performance pressure, self-criticism, sensitivity for performance related situations, a discrepancy between the actual and ideal self as well as a self-esteem contingent of performances among the students. Luckily this can be dealt with on several levels, enabling politicians, parents, teachers and adults in general to strengthen the well-being of students by decreasing the focus on, what students do or achieve and instead emphasize, what they are, and that they are indeed loveable, exactly as they are.
Publication date31 May 2019
Number of pages79
ID: 304819383