Is Perfectionism a Disorder?

Written by: Dr Joseph Kekulawala

Last updated date : March 31, 2022

Is Perfectionism a mental disorder? The short answer is no. However, there is more to it. Perfectionism is a personality trait, not a mental illness, however; Perfectionism can cause distress both to the individual and their loved ones. So shouldn’t Perfectionism be a mental disorder? In this article, we will explore why.

Chapter 1:

Defining Perfectionism

Mental health practitioners broadly consider Perfectionism to be a personality style characterised by a person striving for excellence. However, underneath the efforts to achieve perfection, there are self-critical thoughts, low self-esteem, and concern about others’ thoughts. Perfectionism drives people to attempt the unachievable and set for themselves unrealistic goals and expectations.


Chapter 2:

Models of Understanding Perfectionism

There are different psychological models for Perfectionism. Widely speaking, all the popular models consider Perfectionism a personality style. The models take note of the self-presentation aspects of Perfectionism, the thinking styles that perfectionists have and how their Perfectionism impacts how they interact with the world.

Some of the popular models for understanding perfectionism include the Perfectionism Social Disconnection Model and the Comprehensive Model of Perfectionistic Behaviour. Both of these models point out the challenges faced by people who are perfectionists. The models phrase the challenges as maladaptive consequences, struggles and barriers etc. However, none of the models goes so far as to discuss the functional impairments or everyday challenges people with perfectionism face.


Chapter 3:

Defining Mental Disorders

The question is, Perfectionism, a disorder, can be better answered by looking at what mental disorders are. A mental disorder or a mental illness have a certain behavioural, emotional or thought pattern. These causes significant distress or impairment in someone’s functioning, how they impact a person’s interactions at home, at work and in society more broadly. Generally, mental illnesses are persistent, relapsing and remitting in their nature. Some mental disorders have only single episodes.

By their very definition, mental disorders such as depression, schizophrenia and bipolar are associated with not being able to function in society, achieve, and be productive. Psychiatrists and psychologists often want to see evidence of impairment in day-to-day functioning before diagnosing someone as having a mental disorder.


Chapter 4:

So, Is Perfectionism a Mental Disorder?

Mental health experts do not consider Perfectionism to be a mental disorder. However, research has shown that Perfectionism can lead to mental illnesses such as anxiety and eating disorders. Experts in mental health currently work from a model of understanding Perfectionism as a personality style, not a mental disorder.

In addition, the prevalence of Perfectionism is quite high; researchers estimate the prevalence of Perfectionism to be between 20 to 30%. This would be far higher than mental disorders such as depression, bipolar and schizophrenia. These mental disorders usually have prevalence rates of between 1 to 5%.

Similarly, Perfectionism, like other personality traits, appears during teenage years and tend to be long-standing. Mental disorders, on the other hand, tend to have more discrete episodes.


Chapter 5:

Perfectionism Is a Personality Style

Mental health experts kindly could consider Perfectionism to be a personality style. So, what does this mean for you? Firstly, it does not mean that you should take your Perfectionism lightly. Perfectionism can cause distress, and there are psychological techniques that do help. If you think you have Perfectionism and that it is impacting your sense of well-being, your home and your work life, it may be worth speaking to a health professional. Here, at Epsychonline, we have a course on Perfectionism. It’s a six-week course that covers Perfectionism broadly, looks at causes of perfectionism factors that can be exacerbated and above all, what can be done to overcome it. We hope you have found this article on how to think about Perfectionism, is a mental disorder helpful.