Psychological issues

Destructive Perfectionism and What it is doing to your Health

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 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. This idea of Perfectionism is seen 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, Perfectionism drives people to make positive changes to their lives. Still, at times it becomes a maladaptive technique they use to avoid failure.

How to identify a perfectionist?

These are a few of perfectionism symptoms that can help you identify it. This could be within yourself or a loved one.

Low self-esteem

Perfectionists have low self-esteem due to their self-image being heavily dependent on the amount of success they have. People with low self-esteem keep themselves isolated from social settings where they cannot shine, and their overtly critical nature often pushes people further away.

High personal standards 

People with Perfectionism keep incredibly high standards for themselves while performing daily activities. Unlike high achievers ( who set reasonable goals and regularly meet them), perfectionists set unrealistic standards for themselves, ones they can not usually meet. This reduces their motivation to perform small tasks.


While many indulge in pushing till the last minute to work on their projects or meet deadlines, people with Perfectionism often procrastinate longer to perfect the way they will execute the task. Their need to perfectly plan and strategize is driven by their fear of not meeting the unrealistic standard they set for themselves.

Combative Nature 

Perfectionists strive to put their all into everything that they do. In their mind, all tasks are done to the best of their abilities. Receiving criticism, therefore, makes them defensive. They are combative to avoid feedback/ criticism that would make their work less than perfect.

Highly selective 

People who consider themselves perfectionists are often highly selective of the tasks they want to engage in. They either give it their all or choose not to work at all. This stems from the same fear of failure that drives their procrastination as well.

Destructive Perfectionism

Destructive Perfectionism 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. A person with Destructive Perfectionism is not only highly susceptible to developing chronic stress but is also likely to suffer from frequent burnouts and emotional exhaustion.

Destructive Perfectionism can be further understood based on its effects on a person in the way they view themselves, others, and society.

Avoidance Behavior

People with maladaptive coping strategies often engage in isolating themselves. Due to the fear of failure and the unrealistic standards they set for themselves, they battle anxiety meeting deadlines and are overly self-critical.

Self Harm- Substance Abuse

People in high involvement positions in the workplace who are perfectionists often indulge in self-harm and substance abuse to cope with the stress of not performing to complete perfection.

Eating Disorders

Young Adults who practice Perfectionism may develop eating disorders to perfect their body image.  

At any point, if you or your loved one engage in self-harm or substance abuse or suffer from an eating disorder, reach out to a helpline/ mental health professional at + 91 9741 476 476. 

Treatment of Destructive Perfectionism 

Destructive 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); treatment for the same is administered by a trained mental Health professional. 

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. Models of therapy like CBT (Cognitive-behavioral therapy) can help you learn new ways of thinking about your goals and achievements. A therapist/ mental health professional can help address your need for acceptance or reduce your reactions to negative feedback, further helping you adjust to the changes. 

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