To understand what exercise dependence is, the term was first used by Little (1969) to describe cases of “overcommitment” to exercise among middle-aged men who continued to run despite their physical conditions including injuries and other complications (Allegre et al., 2006). Exercise dependence have been viewed by researchers as both positive and negative. Glasser (1976), defined exercise dependence as a form of “positive addiction” because of its assumed psychological and physiological benefits. Morgan (1979), on the other hand, defined exercise dependence as a “negative addiction” based on running. He posited that runners meet the dependence criteria if they cannot live without running and experience withdrawal symptoms (e.g. anxiety, depression , irritability) if unable to run (Morgan, 1979). Exercise dependence was also separated into two categories, primary exercise dependence and secondary exercise dependence. The latter being associated with eating disorders. In this paper, the focus of the discussion will be the primary exercise dependence and the most acknowledged description of primary exercise dependence was presented by De Coverley Veale in 1987. According to Veale (1987), secondary exercise dependence is an effect of an eating disorder. To define primary exercise dependence, Veale (1987) provided a diagnostic criteria, which he modified later on. The modified criteria for primary exercise dependence, according to Veale (1995), are: (1) preoccupation with exercise which has become stereotyped and routine; (2) significant withdrawal symptoms in the absence of exercise (i.e. mood swings, irritability, and insomnia); (3) the preoccupation causes clinically significant distress or impairment in their physical, social, occupations, or other areas of functioning; and (4) the preoccupation with exercise is not better accounted for by another mental disorder (i.e. eating disorder). Associated features include: (1) either the individual continues to exercise despite a serious physical disorder known to be caused, aggravated, or prolonged by exercise and is advised as such by a health professional, or the individual has arguments or difficulty with his/her partner, family, friends or occupation; and (2) self inflicted loss of weight by dieting as a means towards improving performance (Veale; 1991, 1995). Based on various studies regarding primary exercise dependence, different researchers defined and measured primary dependence based on the DSM-IV criteria for substance dependence (Hausenblas and Downs, 2002b; Zmijewski and Howard, 2003; Klein et al., 2004) and addictive behaviors (Griffiths, 1996). Although, these did not place primary exercise dependence in any recognized psychological or medical diagnostic framework, such as the DSM-IV.
When investigating the reasons behind people’s healthy and unhealthy commitment and behavior toward exercising, several factors have been presented by various studies. According to some researchers, the release of endorphins and activation of the endogenous opioid system during and after exercise may contribute to people’s commitment and behavior toward exercising (Pierce et al., 1993; Godfarb et al., 1998; Langenfeld et al., 1987; Thoren et al., 1990; Wagemaker and Goldstein, 1980; Grossman et al., 1984; Steinberg et al., 1995). Increased dopamine expression during and after exercise was also considered as a possible cause for exercise dependence; although this conclusion requires further investigation (de Castro and Duncan, 1985; Dey and Singh, 1992; Gilliam et al., 1984). In this paper, perfectionism will be the focus in terms of the rationale in people’s commitment and behavior toward exercising. To further understand the relationship between primary exercise dependence and perfectionism, perfectionism must be defined and explored.
Stoltz and Ashby (2007) examined the personality differences between perfectionists — adaptive, maladaptive, and non-perfectionists. The results of their research suggest that adaptive perfectionists scored lower on Taking Charge and Entitlement scales, while maladaptive perfectionists scored higher on Taking Charge, Entitlement, Wanting Recognition, Being Cautious, Liked by All, and Softness scales (Stoltz & Ashby, 2007). Furthermore, Ashby et al. (2006) examined the underlying personality factors involved in perfectionism, and the significant difference between perfectionists and non-perfectionists. On a measure of personality priorities, Ashby et al. (2006) investigated the significant difference between maladaptive perfectionists and adaptive perfectionists. Based on the results of their study, the perfectionists and non-perfectionists show significant difference on the Achieving and Outdoing subscales. When it comes to the Avoiding subscale, Ashby et al. (2006) found that there were no significant difference between perfectionists and non-perfectionists. Furthermore, in terms of Pleasing personality, there were no significant difference between perfectionists and non-perfectionists. When it comes to the Outdoing and Detaching subscales, the difference between adaptive perfectionists and maladaptive perfectionists were significant. According to Ashby et al. (2006), adaptive and maladaptive perfectionists may differ in terms of motivations in striving for high standards or maladaptive perfectionists exhibiting the need to outdo others. Maladaptive perfectionists also scored higher on the Detaching scale, which may indicate striving for high personal standards as a means of exercising control of one’s self (Ashby et al., 2006).
What is the role of perfectionism on primary exercise dependence? How does perfectionism affects people who are susceptible to exhibiting primary exercise dependence symptoms? These are the questions that this paper aims to investigate and answer.
Several studies in exercise dependence were focused on the role of perfectionism in primary exercise dependence, and one of them was conducted by Hall et al. (2008). In their study, they tried to determine how self-oriented and socially prescribed perfectionism were related to exercise dependence, and whether the relationships were mediated by unconditional self-acceptance and labile self-esteem (Hall et al., 2008). Hall et al. (2008) were able to find support for their three hypotheses — (1) self-oriented perfectionism had a direct positive effect on exercise dependence; (2) unconditional self-acceptance fully mediated the relationship between socially prescribed perfectionism and exercise dependence; and (3) labile self-esteem mediated the relationship between unconditional self-acceptance and exercise dependence (Hall et al., 2008). Hagan and Hausenblas (2003), on the other hand, found that the high exercise-dependent group reported greater perfectionism and exercise behavior compared to the low exercise-dependent group.
When it comes to sports and how perfectionism affects the behavior of athletes, Stoeber’s (2011) argued that perfectionism should not be considered as a maladaptive behavior and that perfectionism is multidimensional. He presented two main dimensions of perfectionism -- perfectionistic strivings and perfectionistic concerns (Stoeber & Otto, 2006) (also called personal standard perfectionism and evaluative concerns perfectionism, respectively; Gaudreau & Thompson, 2010; Dunkley, Blankstein, Halsall, Williams, & Winkworth, 2000). Even though Stoeber’s (2011) conclusion suggests that only perfectionistic concerns is distinctly maladaptive, and perfectionistic strivings has a healthy effect on striving for excellence, he proposed that future studies should also consider different personality characteristics that contribute to either domains of perfectionism. This is where the research of Costa and Oliva (2012) comes in. In their research, Costa and Oliva (2012) examined the relationship between primary exercise dependence and personality characteristics. They found that extraversion, neuroticism, and agreeableness may be considered as underlying factors in exercise dependence symptomatology (Costa & Oliva, 2012). The results suggest that agreeableness/friendliness, conscientiousness, and emotional stability negatively predicts exercise dependence, while energy/extraversion positively predicts exercise dependence (Costa & Oliva, 2012). According to Costa and Oliva (2012), extroversion or having high energy (active, assertive, talkative, energetic) are present in excessive exercisers, therefore, predicts exercise dependence symptoms (Costa & Oliva, 2012).
Is the role of perfectionism important in understanding primary exercise dependence and its symptoms? In this paper, the multidimensional aspect of perfectionism was discussed. When looking at the role of perfectionism in primary exercise dependence, researchers made it clear that perfectionism should not be treated as entirely maladaptive. In this case, perfectionistic behaviors among exercisers and physically active people were identified. During the development of the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (MPS; Hewitt & Flett, 1991, 2004), Flett and Hewitt (1991, 2004) described three sub-scales or type of perfectionism: (1) self-oriented perfectionists: follow strict standard, strongly motivated to attain perfection, avoid failure, engage in rigid self-evaluation; (2) other-oriented perfectionists: set unrealistic standards for significant others paired with a strict evaluation of other people’s performances; and (3) socially-prescribed perfectionists: experience pressure to be perfect by others, believe that they are being critically evaluated by others, and believe that others hold unrealistic expectations for their behavior (Flett and Hewitt; 1991, 2004). Kilbert et al. (2005) on the other hand, describes self-oriented perfectionists as those individuals who use their accomplishments and efforts as their motivation to improve and enhance their work, while socially-prescribed perfectionists are more concerned about failure, embarrassment, shame and guilt (Kilbert et al., 2005, p 154).
Perfectionistic concerns is mostly maladaptive in nature — it can be both self-oriented and socially-prescribed (Flett & Hewitt, 2004). The study conducted by Frost and Henderson (1991) supports this theory when they found that individuals who are concerned over mistakes tend to exhibit anxiety, low confidence, a failure orientation, and strong reactions to both positive and negative responses from other people (Frost & Henderson, 1991). The study of Flett, Pole-Langdon, and Hewitt (2003) further confirmed the role of perfectionistic concerns based on self-presentational concerns. During their initial study of regular exercisers, they found that various dimensions of perfectionistic self-presentation are associated with compulsive exercise (Flett, Pole-Langdon, & Hewitt, 2005). According to Flett et al. (2005), self-presentational concerns affect people who are excessively concerned about the impression they make on others, as well as presenting an image of perfection. Excessive self-presentational concerns may cause striving for perfect physical appearance and built, that can also cause health problems such as eating disorders, physical injuries, etc. (Flett & Hewitt, 2005).
Perfectionistic strivings on the other hand, is considered adaptive in most situations — which are mostly self-oriented and other-oriented (Frost et al., 1993). Individuals who exhibit this type of perfectionistic behavior strive for excellence and improvement, and can be considered a healthy form of perfectionism. This may include striving to enhance physical performance, improve or maintain physical health and well-being. Although, studies also suggest that if an individual has high levels of perfectionistic strivings, said individual also tend to exhibit high levels of perfectionistic concerns (Flett & Hewitt, 2005; Hall, 2006; Stoeber, 2011). This is where the overlap between dimensions of perfectionism lie when it comes to examining the role of perfectionism to primary exercise dependence. Will it make sense to affirm that regular exercisers who do not manifest primary exercise dependence symptoms have perfectionistic strivings in balance or moderation, while regular exercisers who are motivated by perfectionistic concerns involving physical appearance and positive social feedback are considered exercise dependent or addicted to exercise (see Veale, 1995)? Due to less research conducted exploring the relationship between primary exercise dependence and perfectionism, future studies exploring this topic will be very beneficial to the field of sports medicine, sports and human performance psychology, and other related branches of psychology.
In today’s society, different types and kinds of exercise routines or ways to become physically active are continuously growing in variety. The emergence of activity trackers have also motivated people to stay committed to exercise routines. How do these things affect people’s behavior toward exercising? Internet and social media now plays a huge role in people’s lives. When talking about exercise dependence, perfectionistic concerns, and perfectionistic strivings, it is hard not to consider the effect of internet and social media to the perfectionistic behaviors of regular exercises and those who are just beginning an exercise routine. Social media itself has become the largest avenue for sharing people’s daily physical activities and exercise routines. Does this method of internet and social media sharing makes it easy for us to tell and for experts to diagnose if a person is manifesting symptoms of primary exercise dependence? It is a fact that exercising regularly is good for one’s health and well-being. When it becomes extreme, that’s when exercising becomes a problem. What was discussed in this paper is a good framework for understanding what drives people to commit to exercise routines based on perfectionistic behaviors. Perfectionistic concerns, when applied to the effects of internet and social media to exercisers, will be very relevant today. Social media has become a place for people to seek positive feedback from peers and others. Such feedback may vary from physical appearance, daily activities, what to eat, what type of diet to practice, and other aspects of life. Internet and social media can also be a harsh place for people susceptible to perfectionistic concerns because of how easy it is to make or break one’s image in front of hundreds, even thousands, of people. For people who are vulnerable to experiencing primary exercise dependence symptoms, the influence of social media and internet to perfectionistic behaviors should be considered. Furthermore, when it comes to perfectionistic strivings, social media and internet can have some positive influence on people, most especially to those who wanted to become physically active for the sake of health and well-being. It is almost natural for people to strive for what is better for one’s health and well-being. Being physically active and exercising regularly are just some of the ways that one can improve and maintain one’s health and well-being. The internet and social media can provide a multitude of great information and people that can motivate and inspire a person’s commitment to improving one’s health and well-being. However, when does perfectionistic strivings become maladaptive in terms of exercising? It’s been discussed that perfectionistic strivings coupled with high perfectionistic concerns are maladaptive (Flett & Hewitt, 2005; Hall, 2006; Stoeber, 2011). Focusing on perfectionistic strivings alone, when a person’s commitment to exercising becomes extreme, that may involve exercising regardless of physical or medical injuries and/or negative impact on one’s social relationships (see Veale, 1995), even if the reason is for health, well-being, or improving performance, said exercise behaviors are considered exercise dependence.
Perfectionism should not be considered entirely maladaptive and negative because of its multidimensional characteristic. Exercising is considerably good and positive for people’s health and well-being, but can be considered unhealthy when done in excess and in unsafe physical conditions. In conclusion, perfectionistic concerns, which is self-oriented and socially-prescribed, can be more detrimental than helpful to an exerciser. Perfectionistic strivings on the other hand, which is mostly self-oriented and other-oriented (Flett & Hewitt, 1991), in moderation and balance, provides more positive effects on exercisers. This is to say that perfectionistic behaviors are important contributing factors to primary exercise dependence symptoms, particularly in today’s internet and social media-driven society. Future studies exploring the relationship between primary exercise dependence and perfectionism, and their relevance to current social trends and issues, will be very valuable in the diagnosis and intervention of exercisers who manifest primary exercise dependence symptoms and are driven by perfectionistic behaviors.
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