Psychological issues

Perfectionism: Signs, Symptoms, and Consequences

Table of Content

What is Perfectionism?

The dominant understanding of perfectionism is related to using the term as an adjective for high-achieving teenagers who eventually become high-performing young adults. Throughout history, many figures known to be perfectionists have often battled mental health problems driven by their need to be perfect at their craft. 

Now you may see it as a positive trait that motivates people to be successful. However, there is more to this than meets the eye. Perfectionism is described as the need to appear perfect or to strive to achieve perfection in all aspects of life. People who are perfectionists treat life as a set of accomplishments they need to check off their list. When healthy, it drives people to make positive changes to their lives. But, at times it may become a maladaptive technique they use to avoid failure.

Symptoms of Perfectionism

Keeping the need to strive for perfection in mind, here are a few symptoms to look out for within yourself or a loved one.

Low self-esteem

Having low self-esteem due to your self-image being heavily dependent on the amount of success you have is a common trait. This may also result in social withdrawal and self-criticism which often pushes others away. 

High personal standards 

The tendency to keep incredibly high standards for yourself while performing daily activities is another prominent factor. Unlike high achievers (who set reasonable goals and regularly meet them), as a perfectionist you may set unrealistic standards for yourself, ones that cannot be usually met. This further reduces your motivation to perform small tasks.


While many indulge in pushing till the last minute to work on their projects or meet deadlines, it often makes you procrastinate longer to perfect the way you will execute the task. The need to plan and strategize every single detail is driven by your fear of not meeting unrealistic standards.

Combative Nature 

As a perfectionist, you may strive to put your all into everything that you do. This is mainly why, all tasks are done to the best of your abilities. Despite giving it your all, situations that entail criticism of any form may make you defensive.

Highly selective 

Being highly selective of the tasks they want to engage in is also a way to guarantee success. This is mainly why you either give it your all or choose not to work at all. Such tendencies usually stem from the same fear of failure that drives your procrastination as well.

Destructive Perfectionism

This is a maladaptive type of perfectionism that negatively affects a person's physical, emotional, and mental health. Destructive Perfectionism manifests itself in the form of anxiety and mood disorders. Hence, if you experience Destructive Perfectionism you may tend to  develop chronic stress, frequent burnouts, and emotional exhaustion. 

Avoidance Behavior

The fear of criticism, low self-esteem, and more are also understood by social withdrawal. Due to the fear of failure and the unrealistic standards you set for yourself, you tend to experience anxiety about meeting deadlines and are overly self-critical. 

What are the Causes of Perfectionism?

Several factors may influence your desire for perfectionism. Common ones include-

  • Fear of judgment or disapproval from others
  • Early childhood experiences, such as unrealistic standards or excessive pressure by parents. 
  • Underlying mental health conditions like associated with perfectionist tendencies like Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
  • Low self-esteem and feelings of inferiority 
  • Desire to control 

Types of Perfectionism 

Although as perfectionists you may seem to share most tendencies such as creating unrealistic standards, being combative, procrastinating, and more, there are a few distinct types of perfectionism. These types differ in terms of their motives and outcomes. 

  • Personal standards perfectionism- People who practice this form of perfectionism tend to hold standards that may be high but motivating in nature. For others, these standards may seem unrealistic or overwhelming. However, this is not the case for you. Having this form of perfectionism allows you to meet these standards without engaging in maladaptive behavior or experiencing burnout of any kind. This form of perfectionism is one of the healthiest. 
  • Self-critical perfectionism- If you tend to practice self-critical perfectionism, the high standards you set for yourself may be intimidating as compared to motivating in nature. This would result in feelings of hopelessness, inadequacy, distress, and anxiety. 
  • Socially prescribed perfectionism- This is one of the most prominent forms of perfectionism. It is signified by the high standards placed by others. The societal and cultural standards placed on you may be overwhelming leading to stress, anxiety, and even self-harm. 

What are the Treatment Options for Perfectionism?

Perfectionism stems from issues related to insecurity, inadequacy, and a varied set of disorders that often go undiagnosed (which include obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorders, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, and more). In the long run, such maladaptive techniques will result in mental health issues. Hence reaching out to a support system or a mental health care professional is highly recommended. 

Seeking help from a professional will allow you to identify the cause of your Perfectionism and help you break the cycle of rumination and unlearn maladaptive coping strategies. With our team of experts delivering specialized models of therapy like CBT (Cognitive-behavioral therapy), Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT), and Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) you can learn new ways of thinking about your goals and achievements. 

Tips to Overcome Perfectionism

Along with therapy, incorporating certain practices can help in coping with the daily struggles of perfectionism. Some strategies include- 

  • Engaging in positive self-talk 
  • Practicing mindfulness techniques that can help you stay focused on the present. 
  • Setting realistic goals
  • Acknowledge and challenge negative tendencies through journaling, art, or reaching out to a friend. 

As you cope with the demands of perfectionism, it is important to be consistent with these techniques and practice patience. There will be days when such strategies may do wonders but there will also be moments where you may feel the overwhelming weight of perfectionism on your shoulders. Hence reminding yourself to not expect to overcome perfectionism in a day or exercise the techniques to great lengths of success is essential.


How to overcome perfectionism? 

Our experts recommend several techniques to overcome perfectionism, including- 

  • Practicing mindfulness techniques
  • Engaging in positive self-talk 
  • Creating realistic goals and standards
  • Recognizing triggers 
  • Reaching out to a mental health care professional 

How to avoid perfectionism?

To manage or prevent the negative impact of perfectionism, here are a few practices to consider- 

  • Set realistic goals
  • Breakdown major tasks into achievable steps 
  • Focus on one task at a time
  • Recognize and acknowledge your mistakes 
  • Challenge self-critical thoughts 

Why is perfectionism bad for you?

As with any other condition, when perfectionism crosses its limits, it can lead to major psychological issues. For instance, unrealistic standards, self-criticism, low self-esteem, and isolating yourself from others may result in anxiety chronic stress, burnout, emotional exhaustion, and more. 

What is maladaptive perfectionism? 

Setting unrealistic standards or goals combined with self-criticism is commonly referred to as maladaptive perfectionism. This form of perfectionism tends to lower your self-esteem drastically and increase your risk of developing mental health conditions. 


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