Self-criticism as a mediator in the relationship between unhealthy perfectionism and distress

Kirsty James, Bas Verplanken, Katharine A. Rimes

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Unhealthy or negative perfectionism has been identified as both a risk and maintaining factor for a range of psychological difficulties. A cross-sectional online study with a predominantly student population (n = 381) investigated cognitive processes suggested to mediate the relationship between unhealthy perfectionism and distress. Hypothesised cognitive processes were assessed using questionnaires about rumination, habitual self-critical thinking, unhelpful beliefs about emotions, self-compassion and mindfulness. Factor analysis of these questionnaires suggested two distinct underlying constructs, labelled self-criticism and present-moment awareness. Higher levels of self-criticism were associated with unhealthy perfectionism and psychological distress, and partially mediated this relationship. Present-moment awareness was associated with unhealthy perfectionism but not distress. These findings are consistent with the possibility that repetitive or habitual self-critical thinking is a process through which unhealthy perfectionism may result in greater distress. Future research could investigate whether interventions targeting self-criticism may help to reduce distress in individuals with high levels of unhealthy perfectionism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-128
JournalPersonality and Individual Differences
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2015


  • Perfectionism, self-criticism, depression, anxiety, stress


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