Perfectionism - Is It Really Perfect?

Medically reviewed by: Ilbey Ucar – PhD (Psychology)

Last updated date : January 26, 2023

Perfectionism is the need to always look perfect to others and yourself. Moreover, it is a personality trait rather than a disorder. Often, perfectionism is seen as good quality. However, having perfectionistic tendencies could also affect your lifestyle negatively. People who suffer from perfectionism set high standards for themselves. Moreover, they judge themselves and others in an unhealthy way. We can spot a perfectionist by the way one behaves.

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Chapter 1:

Are You a Perfectionist?

Man fixing final tile in jigsaw puzzle

Feeling like you didn’t work enough although your boss complimented your work? Do you postpone work to avoid feelings of failure? Have you spent hours editing an essay, only to get a bad grade in the end? Then, chances are, you are a perfectionist. Let’s look at some of the perfectionistic tendencies.

Setting extra high standards

Perfectionists set unrealistic standards for tasks they do. Often, the said task doesn’t even require much effort. But for them, their self-worth depends on how perfect their result is. Therefore, they tend to overwork and overstress to achieve their result no matter what.

Being very critical

Perfectionism causes a need to have exceptional results. Hence, perfectionists judge their work very critically. They might obtain an “A grade” or perform well in the office. But if their standards aren’t met, they get upset. Perfectionists don’t care about a company’s goal. It doesn’t matter to them. So they’ll always put their own goals or motivations first.

Focusing on the wrong thing

Nitpicking or attention to detail is a highlighted perfectionistic tendency. If you take too much time on unnoticeable and unnecessary things, it might be due to perfectionism. Trying to perfect handwriting? You might miss what the teacher says. Spending hours beautifying a presentation? You’ll lose focus on the content.

The wrong focus is a sign of perfectionism.


A good thing about perfectionists? They always hold themselves responsible for their performance. As they are their critics, they tend to ruminate when the high standards are not met. They feel worthless, unhappy and see themselves as failures. Often, one might completely overlook the positives and brood in the negatives. Self-sabotage is a serious side effect of perfectionism. Hence, it can lead to a lot of problems.

Postponing tasks

Known as procrastination, postponing tasks is something that we all love to do! However, perfectionists are different. They like to wait for the perfect time to start a task. Research suggests that if perfectionists think they can’t ace the task, they postpone it. This is because they try to avoid future failures and the fear of not working to their standard.

Overthinking and anxiousness
Perfectionism makes you overthink and stress too much. Perfectionists get lost in thought when talking to an important person or when being responsible. They try to check and prepare what they are going to do next and often end up zoning out. They want to impress others. As a result, they might blabber something very random and beat themselves up for it. So, the cycle repeats.

Chapter 2:

Causes of Perfectionism

Fearing bad results
Almost everyone is scared of failing. We know that there’s always space to fail. Perfectionists, however, like to succeed in everything they do. Therefore they fear bad results as if it is the devil. Because of this, they set unrealistic goals, thinking it will save them from failure.
Social pressure
Perfectionists are usually created as a result of social pressure. From childhood to adulthood, there is a comparison in academics, sports, and appearance. The ones who do well in those are often praised. So people practice perfectionism to impress others and feel loved. The lack of praise can help develop this too.
Mental health conditions
Anxiety is a mental health condition. Simply put, it is overthinking. You being anxious about how you behave, talk or look may result in aiming for perfection. You will try hard because you think you’re not good enough. It is like a false alarm. ( E.g. You think your hair looks messy, and you need to comb again, even though it’s okay).

OCD (Obsessive-compulsive disorder) is another cause. OCD makes people do repetitive tasks (compulsive) as a result of disturbing feelings or needs. So they have perfectionistic tendencies.

Trauma and Insecurity
Traumatic experiences will leave you with insecurities, hurt, and doubt. To avoid such things in the future, you may develop perfectionism. ( For instance, the death of a loved one due to your negligence will make you develop perfectionistic tendencies in the future).

Some people judge themselves too hard and then become super insecure. So, they spend their entire life trying to be perfect and feel secure.

To seem flawless

Some people are very concerned about their image. They put a great deal into doing things  in a way to suit their image. Often they develop perfectionism. Ones who like to show off or brag may develop perfectionistic tendencies too.

Chapter 3:

Perfectionism, the Good and the Bad

Like all things, perfectionism has two sides to it. It depends on how you control it. Let’s look at the two sides of perfectionistic tendencies. Are you a good or a bad perfectionist?
  • Accuracy – Attention to detail, neat and organized.
  • Aims higher – Motivated to do better.
  • On-time – Healthy perfectionists want to always be on time.
  • Persistent – They try to keep the high standards going and be the best.
  • Reliability – People count on you and trust your work.
  • Perform better – You want to prove yourself to others, so you perform better.
  • Slow – Too much time spent perfecting their craft
  • Procrastination – Avoiding tasks to prevent feelings of failure.
  • Increased Stress – You worry and stress over the tiniest thing
  • Disrupts relationships- Affects relationships with family/peers due to difference of opinion.
  • Afraid of change – Change gives you anxiety, so you avoid changes. This reduces the quality of life.
  • Self-esteem issues – You dwell on your failures and go down the spiral of feeling bad.

As you can see, perfectionism can result in a lot of different ways. It will depend on the situation, the self-awareness, and the environment as well. For instance, perfectionistic tendencies benefit in a career that needs extra attention to detail. They can use their skills to proofread, double-check various activities. However, the same perfectionistic tendencies may come off as unwanted. In a busy work scenario, perfectionists come across as super slow.

In light of this issue, there are instances where people will make fun of you for your perfectionism due to their lack of knowledge of perfectionism. Therefore, it is important to be educated on this. Then, you can help someone you may know without shaming them for it.

“Remember, no one is perfect in this world. The definition of perfect differs from person to person as well. This is what makes life interesting.”

Chapter 4:

Perfectionists vs High Achievers

Dejected man hunched on the ground with his aspirational shadow holding trophy

The high achievers share similar perfectionistic tendencies. From their need to be the best to them focusing on the results, they seem quite similar. So here are some key factors that help you differentiate them.

  • Perfectionists set unreasonable goals. Often they overwork, chasing unachievable goals ( E.g. I will be the best candidate in that interview). High achievers set realistic goals. They are easy to measure. In addition, they are very specific ( E.g. I will study 2 chapters in 4 hours).
  • The priority of perfectionists is their  standard and rules to a task meanwhile high achievers can identify what is more important ( For Instance, company goal, Task objective)
  • People who work to perfection are often ones with low esteem. Therefore, they always try to prove themselves. Their end result isn’t always going to be good. However, high achievers have strong self-esteem and believe in themselves. Hence, using that power to create good results most of the time.
  • Perfectionists see criticism as a personal attack. This is mostly because of their low self-esteem. So they become defensive when they face it. On the other hand, high achievers take criticism with an open mind. They keep space for it. They use it to fix their errors, learn and improve their performance. Generally, this is what results in good work.
  • As discussed above, perfectionists are driven by the fear of failure. They try to achieve perfectionism to avoid failing at all costs. However, high achievers do not fear failure. They use it as motivation and a guide to performing better in the future.
  • Also, being stuck on failures and talking bad about yourself isn’t something high achievers do when compared to perfectionists.
  • High achievers enjoy the thrill of achieving something. Perfectionists only focus on the end result.

Chapter 5:

Does It Affect Everyday Life?

Perfectionism can cause harm to one’s day-to-day life. Let’s look at how it happens in each part of your life.
  • Students may focus on things unrelated to the subject, like taking pretty notes. After that, they might not study at all. They won’t take advice from their teacher but do their own thing. Some students will cheat on tests to get higher marks. Therefore causing a bad environment in their institute. In addition, some may even try to put other students down using rumors’ and complaints.
Friends and Family
  • Perfectionists want to appear a certain way in front of them. To be the best kid or coolest friend, they will try hard to achieve it. In the process, they might appear fake or insincere. So it is unfair for others. It might cause long-term problems like distrust & jealousy. In addition, they want to prove themselves or get validation from others. This worsens their lack of self-esteem.
  • If a perfectionist is at work, it is very hard to work with them. They try to be the best on their terms, ignoring the company’s wishes. This will reduce the company’s productivity. Sometimes, they would only chase promotions or a salary raise. To achieve this, they might abuse their power, co-workers, and company resources. They would create bad relationships with co-workers as well. Worst case scenario, they will lose their job.
Romantic relationships
  • Perfectionists would avoid being vulnerable to the other person because of insecurities. The fear of getting judged will make them lie or not be themselves. They will try to show that they’re strong. Similarly, they’ll avoid talking about important things. This will create a lot of problems like distrust, misunderstanding, and lack of intimacy. The perfectionist may postpone or completely avoid big decisions like moving in together, marriage, or meeting the parents. This is because they are anxious about how it’ll go.
  • Without a doubt, perfectionists will go the extra mile to reach their health goals. This can be due to self-image issues or to pretend their life is perfect. Perfectionism leads to exercising, eating too much or too little. For instance, going on extreme diets to have the perfect body. In this situation, the perfectionist tries hard to appear flawless in society’s eye. These types of practices are too dangerous. So various health problems may arise.
Having fun
  • Obviously, we all like to have fun. Even perfectionists. However, things will turn bad when their perfectionism takes over.  Even though they might try to prove their skills or play to impress others in a game like Monopoly.  Surprisingly, some may even bend the rules to win. This will make having fun a little too serious. Therefore, perfectionists may lose friends, will kill the joy, and end up in arguments.

Chapter 6:

Perfectionism Life Threatening?

Perfectionism is not a sickness. It will not directly cause harm to your life. But, if you practice it to an extreme, it might even cost your life. So, how can it be life-threatening? Let us look at some instances.
  • Eating disorders are a result of wanting to look perfect to society. It can lead to health complications or even death if extreme diets and habits are practiced. E.g. Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa.
  • Suicidal thoughts are a sign that perfectionism is taken far. People are likely to develop thoughts about suicide when things don’t go right. When faced with failure and imperfections if one develops this, it is best to get professional help.

OCD – If perfectionism is practiced as a result of OCD, it can be hard to change it. Since it is a mental health concern, often people with OCD will engage in repetitive dangerous activities.

Chapter 7:

How to get help?

Man in business suit approaching his goal Perfectionism is a treatable personality trait. It is very easy to control it if you have proper guidance. Here are some ways you could consider getting help.
Self awareness
Obviously, if you are already reading this article, you are somewhat aware that you have perfectionism. That’s a great start. So, whatever that made you reflect on your personality, can help you out of this. For starters, look back at times where you acted out of fear or insecurity. Also, the times where people may have pointed out your need to do everything right. Now try to understand what feeling triggered you to get perfect results. There you have it! Then work on those feelings and try to grow. Research about such ways. You will finally find “perfect peace”.

If you are self-aware of your perfectionism, you can choose how to deal with it. Therefore, you can use it as a power and limit it when not needed.

Talk to people you trust
You might not want others to know that you suffer from perfectionism. Totally understandable. However, to get better and not get into trouble, it’s best to work on it. Try talking to a person you trust. Tell them about your triggers and how you act when you want a certain result. Ask them to remind you when you overwork yourself or beat yourself up. If you are losing the right focus, they can help you get right back on track. Remember, they probably appreciate the good parts of your perfectionistic tendencies. They are there to help you, so try to be cooperative.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
If the above ways aren’t the best you can try going for therapy. It might sound scary but it is one of the most organized approaches. CBT helps you identify how your mind works. The thoughts, the emotions and the cycle of interpreting everything. Further, it connects the dots of trauma or learned behavior in the past. The therapist will easily break down everything for you and recommend some things to do. Self-reflecting exercises, keeping a diary, taking up new challenges are some examples.

"Quizzes and recommendations were very uselful" Donna

87 sections

6-Weeks Self-Paced

  • Educational Content
  • Quizzes
  • Self-reflection material
  • Suggestions & feedback
  • Worksheet, tips & tools to use

$9.00 $12.00

25% discount