Signs of Perfectionism

Written by: Dr Joseph Kekulawala
Last updated date : April 01, 2022

Perfection isn’t always easy to spot. There are countless ways that perfectionism can present. Often the early signs of perfectionism appear during our teenage years. Sometimes even younger, during childhood. In this article, we will explore 11 different signs of perfectionism. We will also look at perfectionism in younger people. Go over some of the signs of perfectionism in children. 

Perfectionism is a personality trait or personality style. Similar to being extroverted or openness to new experiences. 20 to 30% of us have signs of perfectionism. Please note, perfectionism is not a mental health disorder. Signs of perfectionism are around striving for excellence, high standards and wanting exceptional results. 

Chapter 1:

Mistakes Are Avoided at All Costs 

Perfectionists, understandably, are very critical of mistakes. Mistakes are the enemy, something to avoid at all costs. Perfectionists repeatedly check and delay completing tasks, all in an effort to avoid mistakes. Repeating tasks and delaying submitting are classic signs of perfectionism. If we consider mistakes to be evil and to be avoided at all costs, we lose the chance to learn from them. Instead, if we take a growth mindset, they can be an invaluable opportunity for us to learn.


Chapter 2:

The End Product Is Rarely Satisfying 

Despite their best efforts, countless revisions, perfectionists rarely feel satisfied or proud. Often, everyone else is more than happy, but they aren’t. Understandably, this takes its toll. Eventually, it can worsen fears of failure. 


Chapter 3:

Avoiding Activities That You Are Not Good At

We all know our weaknesses and our strengths. One of the tell telling signs of perfectionism is avoiding activities that we know we are not great at. We end up avoiding such activities. For young people, this means they miss out on the chance to experience and explore. 


Chapter 4:

Making Unusual Sacrifices

Another classic sign of perfectionism is going to great lengths to achieve an outcome. High achievers work extra hard to reach their goals. However, with maladaptive perfectionism, these high achievers by going to extreme lengths and sacrifice theirs and others happiness. For instance, a child who is a high achiever and wants to get exceptional grades at school might skip playing sports and hang out with friends. Whilst they may get the first prize at school, they are more likely to gain weight, lack friendships and miss out on learning invaluable social skills. 


Chapter 5:

Driven by Fear

Signs of perfectionism in children and adults are similar. For all age groups, maladaptive perfectionism is driven by fear. It is an internal fear of failure or being other’s finding out that the person isn’t as good at something. In a child, it can come across as a fear that the teacher realises that the child doesn’t understand something. Or perhaps that their friends realise that they aren’t as popular or as good at sport. 


Chapter 6:

Need for Control

Another sign of perfectionism is a need for control or being in charge. The need for control can come out in different ways, sometimes in quite subtle ways. For example, a child who does all work of his teammates in a group assignment. Why? Because he wants to make sure everything is correct. 


Chapter 7:

Procrastination as a Sign of Perfectionism

It may sound ironic, but maladaptive perfectionists invariably procrastinate. On exploration, it’s because of the fear of failure, perfectionists worry about doing a certain task properly. They can end up stuck in fear, unable to complete the task. Procrastination then becomes a way to distract them from the task. 


Chapter 8:

Highly Critical Thinking 

Psychologists doing assessments in children or teenagers for perfectionism may ask about critical thoughts they have about themselves and others. One of the signs of perfectionism in children is critical thinking about their friends, family and teachers. Their high standards go beyond themselves. Children with unhealthy perfectionism have high expectations for their teachers and others. They may be quick to disregard an adult who they see as not meeting their expectations. It could be for spelling, general knowledge or being able to get things done. 


Chapter 9:

Having Low Self-Esteem

A sign of maladaptive perfectionism is low self-esteem. In fact, self-esteem is a good way to tell apart people with healthy versus unhealthy perfectionism. Often people with maladaptive perfectionism are very critical, have negative views about themselves and others. It is this internal dissatisfaction that can drive them to want to achieve more. 


Chapter 10:

Focus On Results, Not the Journey

Another classic sign of perfectionism is a focus on the end result. Perfectionists take very little joy or pleasure in the process. Perfectionists are more interested in ticking the box, achieving as a way of meeting the internal standards for themselves. This is one of the signs of perfectionism in children and even adults, which is concerning. When we focus on the outcome, we miss out on great opportunities to learn and grow. 

Chapter 11:

Struggling to Relax

As you noticing, there are different signs of perfectionism. Struggling to relax, enjoy quiet time with friends and family is hard for perfectionists. Why? Because of their underlying desire to keep achieving, getting results and ticking off boxes. Not being able to relax, take a day off could be a sign of perfectionism in children as well. There are effective ways to manage maladaptive perfectionism. Some of them are psychology-based others can be simple life hacks that you can use. Here at Epsychonline, we have a six-week course on perfectionism. You can find it on our courses page, and please check it out. We hope you have found this to be a helpful article. Would you please send us any feedback and suggestions you have?