Perfectionism Symptoms

Written by: Dr Joseph Kekulawala
Last updated date : March 31, 2022

Perfectionism is complex. There are many different ways in which perfectionism can present. Often the early signs of perfectionism appear during our teenage years. In this article, we will dive into perfectionism symptoms. We will also look at perfectionism associated with mental health conditions, eating disorders, and OCD, perfectionism symptoms here.

But first, let’s set the record straight on what perfectionism is. Perfectionism is a personality trait or personality style. 20 to 30% of us have features in keeping with perfectionism. Perfectionism is not a mental health disorder. Perfectionism symptoms are around striving for excellence, high standards and wanting flawless results. Maladaptive or unhealthy perfectionism is associated with loss of esteem, critical self-thinking, which then drives a person’s extreme effort to achieve perfect results.

Chapter 1:

The Work Is Never Perfect or Satisfying 

Despite your best efforts, multiple revisions, you never feel quite satisfied or proud of your achievements. That a sense of fulfilment, feeling accomplished is lacking. Often, everyone else is more than satisfied with your work. However, their opinions don’t count. This perfectionism symptom is due to the extraordinarily high standards or goals that you set yourself.


Chapter 2:

Mistakes Are Bad

People with perfectionism, understandably, are very critical of mistakes. Mistakes are seen as the enemy, something to avoid at all costs and worth repetitive checking and delays in completing, all to avoid mistakes. This is one of the classic perfectionism symptoms. Once we consider mistakes to be bad and avoided at all costs, we lose the chance to learn from our mistakes. If we take a growth mindset to our mistakes, they can be an invaluable opportunity for us to learn.


Chapter 3:

Avoiding Activities That You Are Not Good At

We all know our strengths and weaknesses. One tell telling perfectionism symptom is avoiding activities that we know we can’t excel at. We pre-empt not reaching a high standard. Therefore we don’t want to try at all.


Chapter 4:

Going to Great Lengths, Unusual Sacrifices

Another classic perfectionism symptom is going to great lengths to achieve the desired outcome. Sometimes, high achievers work extra hard to reach their goals. However, with maladaptive perfectionism, these high achievers go to extreme lengths and sacrifice their overall well-being, happiness, and due to the efforts negatively impact their well-being of others. For instance, someone with maladaptive perfectionism may work so hard to impress the boss and colleagues that they miss out on fun family activities with their children.


Chapter 5:

Need for Control

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) Has strict diagnostic criteria. A feature of both OCD, perfectionism symptoms is an overall desire for control or being in charge. The need for control can come out in different ways, given what the concern or worry is. Often the need to be in control can be seen in subtle ways across different aspects.


Chapter 6:

Driven by Fear

Both OCD, perfectionism symptoms can be driven by fear and worry. With OCD, the concern usually relates to something quite specific and the person generally realises that their anxiety is extreme. For example, worries about doors being unlocked or what is about numbers and symmetry. With perfectionism, the fear usually relates to not achieving standards or meeting goals.


Chapter 7:

Highly Critical Thinking 

Psychologists, when doing assessments for both perfectionism and OCD enquire a lot about a person’s thoughts. Indeed, both OCD, perfectionism symptoms relate to critical thinking. However, there is a difference with regards to the type of critical thinking. Perfectionism worries relate to not meeting the person or others expectations. In comparison, with OCD, the obsessive thoughts themselves are not critical. It is rather that the obsessive thoughts, worries and associated shame then drive self-critical thinking. 


Chapter 8:

Procrastination as a Perfectionism Symptom

It may seem ironic that perfectionists are prone to procrastination. If we dig a little deeper, because of the fear of failure, perfectionists sometimes worry about doing a certain task properly and become paralysed by fear of failure. As a result, they become stuck, unable to complete the task.


Chapter 9:

Low Self-Esteem or Poor Self-Regard

Maladaptive perfectionism is associated with low self-esteem. In fact, self-esteem is a good differentiation between people with healthy versus unhealthy perfectionism. Often people with maladaptive perfectionism tend to be very critical, have negative beliefs about themselves, and unhappy overall. It is the sadness that, in part, drives them to want to achieve more.


Chapter 10:

The Outcome Not the Journey

Another one of the classic perfectionism symptoms is the focus on the end product, outcome or result. Perfectionists, take little joy or pleasure in the journey or process of getting there. Perfectionists are more interested in ticking the box, achieving as a way of meeting the internal expectations for themselves. In the long run, this can be quite challenging as setbacks and values are inevitable. If you notice these perfectionism traits in yourself, there is no need to stress. Discuss it with someone that you trust and who knows you well. You might want to see a mental health professional, such as a psychologist. There are effective ways to manage maladaptive perfectionism. Here at Epsychonline, we have six-week course on perfectionism. You can find it on our courses page. We hope you have found this article useful. Please send us any feedback and suggestions you have.