Who Are Perfectionists: a Comprehensive Guide

Do you strive for perfection in all aspects of your life? Are your standards impossibly high? If so, you might be a perfectionist. In this guide, we'll look at who perfectionists are and why they aim for flawlessness.

Perfectionists are known for being meticulous about details and seeking excellence without let-up. But the drive to achieve everything perfectly can come at an emotional cost—think dissatisfaction, stress, anxiety.

Let's learn about the traits that make someone a perfectionist, what drives them, and what challenges they face daily.

Short Summary

What Is Perfectionism?

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Perfectionism is a mindset (or, better said, a personality trait) where you constantly strive to be perfect in everything you do, whether it's your job or how you live your life.

It means setting unrealistic goals and then being disappointed with yourself for not reaching them – because nothing less than flawless will ever be good enough.

For example, imagine a student who spends hours editing an essay because they think every word has to be just right. They might go over parts repeatedly, even after getting a good grade - feeling like it wasn't perfect.

Let's take the example of a dedicated athlete. They practice with determination, wanting to do everything perfectly. Even the smallest things are important to them. When they make mistakes while practicing, they don't dismiss them – they study them intently instead.

Perfectionists pay great attention to detail and often have an all-or-nothing approach: either they succeed or fail completely.

They worry a lot about making mistakes or being criticized because anything less than perfect seems unacceptable. As a result, they can end up feeling quite anxious and lacking in confidence.

Signs of Perfectionism

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Perfectionism has different ways of showing itself in both our behaviors and thoughts. Some of these can help us get better at what we do, but others might stop us from growing at work or in our personal lives:

Setting Unrealistically High Standards

Those who strive for perfection establish standards that are almost certainly unattainable. When this happens, there is no margin for error or flaws. Think of a chef who tries to create Michelin-star-worthy dishes all the time.

They feel frustrated and unhappy if they don't succeed (which is inevitable since they have set themselves impossible targets). Trying to be perfect means spending too much time on something because you're fixated on every tiny aspect. As a result, it can impede progress rather than help it along.

Fear of Failure

Many individuals who strive for perfection are motivated by an overwhelming dread of falling short. They may be convinced that any error or reversal will reflect badly on them personally or professionally.

Such anxieties could leave them unwilling to take new risks or accept fresh challenges in case they do not succeed at these tasks.

For example, a person always trying to be perfect might not seek promotion because they worry that they lack exact qualifications — and so miss opportunities for career advancement.

Procrastination Or Avoidance

Strangely enough, perfectionists have difficulty with procrastination, even though they set high standards for themselves.

Because they're scared of not measuring up to what they expect from themselves, they may wait until they feel 100% ready or certain that things will turn out the way they want before starting tasks. And this can be stressful and bad for productivity.

For instance, a student who wants their research paper to be flawless might keep writing it until they've collected too many sources—just in case.

Low Self-Esteem

Perfectionists tend to connect their worth to what they achieve, which means they can sometimes feel bad about themselves. When things aren't up to the standards they've set (which might be impossible), they see themselves as not good enough and are extra mean in their own minds.

If someone says "Good job!" that person might think the other doesn't really mean it or got lucky instead of recognizing their accomplishment.

Overwhelming Checklists And To-Do Lists

Individuals inclined towards perfectionism tend to create lengthy checklists and inventories for themselves, meticulously detailing every element of a plan. Being methodical in this way can be advantageous in terms of being organized.

However, it frequently leads to feeling anxious or overwhelmed because things must go as planned. For example, someone might exert a lot of effort putting together the perfect agenda for a vacation that leaves little room for unexpected experiences or relaxation time.

Difficulty Delegating Tasks

Delegation is a challenge for perfectionists because they worry about whether others can do things as well as they can. This belief that only they are capable of achieving excellent results makes it difficult for them to let go of control.

If something needs to be done perfectly – and in their view, that means only by themselves – then it's hard for them to hand over responsibility to someone else. When managers who are perfectionists don't give people much work to do, it's because they want things done perfectly or not at all.

Excessive Double-Checking

Perfectionists feel an urgent need to ensure everything is perfect, often leading to endless checking. They go beyond the call of duty – for instance, by double- or triple-checking their work or assignments in order to pick up even the smallest inaccuracies.

An individual might read through an email several times before pressing "send" because they're anxious about spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. However, this can become a disadvantage since time is wasted as people spend more than they should trying to attain something unattainable.

Harsh Self-Criticism

People striving for perfection often have difficulty recognizing their achievements because they judge themselves severely. Instead of celebrating what they've done well, they criticize themselves harshly whenever anything falls short of the impossible goals they set.

As an example, a perfectionist might give a presentation that goes down well but obsesses over tiny errors afterward or feel down because it did not live up to an idealized version held in advance.

This ongoing blame game damages self-esteem and can trigger sensations such as anxiousness or incompetence.

Types of Perfectionism

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There are several types of perfectionism, and each has features that distinguish it from the others. Knowing which particular type may explain a person's behaviors or tendencies better can be helpful. Here's an overview:

Self-Oriented Perfectionism

Self-oriented perfectionism refers to a mindset where individuals set high expectations for themselves and strive for personal excellence. Those with self-critical perfectionism are motivated from within to reach their own standards of perfection.

For instance, an artist who is a self-oriented perfectionist might constantly aim to perfect their technique and skill set while producing superlative artwork.

Socially Prescribed Perfectionism

In opposition to self-centered perfectionism, which involves exclusively personal standards, is another form called socially prescribed perfectionism. This means you believe others expect you to be perfect.

Socially prescribed perfectionists feel a need to conform and be perfect because they think that's what it takes for them to gain approval or avoid criticism from others.

For example, people with socially prescribed perfectionism often say that they feel intense pressure from parents or friends to earn only A's all the time in school.

Other-Oriented Perfectionism

Among the various types of perfectionism, one revolves around unrealistically high expectations for others. This version—called other-oriented perfectionism—is when people think everyone else should measure up to their standards of excellence.

Individuals with this trait often get annoyed or frustrated if others don't meet their ideals and can become critical and demanding toward them. For instance, a boss might find fault with subordinates' work, even if it's perfect.

Causes of Perfectionism

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The causes of perfectionism are diverse. A range of external factors can drive perfectionistic tendencies, including societal expectations and the pressure placed on individuals by parents or mentors. However, there are other causes, too – let's investigate them.

Parental Expectations

An upbringing characterized by parents with high standards can greatly impact how someone grows up and could even make them develop perfectionist tendencies.

For example, if your mom and dad always tell you that they expect you to get top marks – and then you do – it's easy to believe anything less than perfect is not good enough.

If this way of thinking continues into adulthood, some people will feel like they must strive for flawlessness in all aspects of life because otherwise, their parents won't be happy.

Societal Pressure

In today's world, success is frequently linked to being perfect. Seeing people online constantly sharing only the best parts of their lives can make us believe that anything less than perfection isn't good enough.

This pressure from outside ourselves can make us scared of what others will think if we don't achieve our goals perfectly. It might even make us work way too hard at things like looking a certain way or getting ahead in our jobs.

Personal Insecurities

Deep-rooted personal insecurities can give rise to perfectionism. Wanting to be liked, accepted, or loved might lead individuals to think that being perfect will achieve all three goals.

For example, a person with low self-regard could seek constant reassurance about their looks by trying endlessly to look great. When striving for perfection is driven by wanting others' approval more than anything else, it helps hide perceived weaknesses or flaws – whether they exist or not!

Fear of Failure

Fear of failure is common among perfectionists, who tend to view any mistake or imperfection as evidence of personal incompetence. They dread falling short of their own high standards so much that they zealously pursue flawlessness - often at great cost.

For instance, someone who's scared they won't instantly excel at something new might avoid taking on the challenge altogether – and that fear can be a powerful motivator for perfectionism.

Why? Because they believe only perfect results will spare them disappointment or others' condemnation if things go wrong.

Academic And Professional Environments

Perfectionism is often caused by the high standards set in academic and professional environments. In such places, people frequently focus on getting top grades or hitting tough targets, which can make them feel they have to be perfect.

For example, students might worry about letting down their parents or teachers if they don't consistently excel. Similarly, a grownup might feel they need to produce flawless work at all times if they want to get promoted or be recognized for doing well.

These ongoing pushes for perfection mean individuals are regularly seeking those high goals (set either by themselves or others) to excel within education or employment systems.

Traumatic Experiences

Perfectionism can be caused by trauma, as people use it to feel more in control again after terrible things happen. If you were frequently told off when young, you might make this criticism inside yourself and keep striving to do everything right so no one ever finds out about mistakes or rejects you.

Once something awful has occurred, sufferers may start worrying a lot about getting things wrong or failing. They might think that if only they could do whatever perfectly, then nothing bad would ever occur once more.

Healthy Perfectionism Vs. Maladaptive Perfectionism

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Perfectionism can be divided into two main types: healthy perfectionism and maladaptive perfectionism. Recognizing how these two kinds of perfectionism differ from each other can help us understand why they have different impacts on people's lives and how well they manage overall:

Healthy Perfectionism

People with healthy perfectionism strongly desire to do things well, set very high standards for themselves, and work hard to achieve personal growth. They have an even approach to what they want to accomplish because they know that errors can help them learn.

When they're faced with difficulties, they don't beat themselves up too much or get downhearted because they appreciate their achievements.

For instance, a student who has healthy perfectionism might try for top marks but understand that every now and again, it's normal not to score quite so highly. This doesn't mean you are worth less as a person.

Instead of feeling upset by criticism, these people use it as a way of getting better at stuff and as motivation.

Unhealthy Perfectionism

In contrast, unhealthy or maladaptive perfectionism is distinguished by striving for flawlessness in an unrealistic way that results in negative self-evaluation and overly critical self-appraisal.

People who have tendencies towards maladaptive perfectionism put tremendous pressure on themselves. They struggle to accept anything other than perfect performance.

For example, a painter who has unhealthy perfectionism might agonize for hours over every brushstroke because they're afraid of making imperfect art. They may become paralyzed by self-doubt or avoid practicing creative pursuits altogether as a result.

Pitfalls of Perfectionistic Tendencies

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While perfectionism often stems from a desire for excellence, it can lead to negative outcomes. Here are a few examples:

Mental Health Issues

If you tend to be a perfectionist, it's important to know that this trait can contribute to mental health challenges. Striving for flawlessness can increase stress, anxiety, depression, and even eating disorders.

Constantly criticizing yourself while worrying about messing up also takes a toll on your emotions. For example, let's say you panic or become overly anxious whenever something small goes wrong (or you think it does) because you have unrealistically high expectations for yourself.

Over time, these issues can begin to seriously affect your quality of life and keep you from fully enjoying your achievements.

Chronic Dissatisfaction

Frequently, overly critical self-evaluations can make you unsatisfied for long periods of time with things about yourself or other people. Because what perfectionists want is often not possible or reasonable, they are only pleased partially, even if they do really well at something.

For instance, a student might take an exam and get 100% on it – still feeling unhappy because it was not a perfect score! This kind of feeling, like we always fall short, can be tiring. It can also mean that we don't enjoy things as much as we could.


People with perfectionistic traits may work too hard to the point of exhaustion. They fear failure and think they must work nonstop to achieve high standards. This constant pressure can cause tiredness and make them feel unwell.

For instance, someone might always stay late at work, ignoring their own needs, until eventually they cannot go on anymore and find it hard even to get out of bed.

"Burnout" is a word we use when things like this happen. People who experience burnout tend not to produce much because they are so tired all the time but also have negative feelings about what little they do manage.

It's worth considering that satisfaction levels may drop if you are constantly pushing yourself too hard without looking after yourself properly.

Impaired Relationships

Focusing excessively on being perfect can make it difficult for perfectionists to maintain relationships with others. They have very high standards not only for themselves but also for the people in their lives, which means they may criticize them too much or expect too much from them.

A boss who is a perfectionist might watch over every little thing employees do because they think nobody else can do things right. And if someone is never happy with what you do and always wants to be in charge, it's hard to trust them or feel good around them.

This kind of situation makes friendships less enjoyable, too. If someone is always disappointed with you, any fun you two have together gets spoiled pretty quickly!

Avoidance of New Experiences

Having perfectionist tendencies can make people scared they'll fail or make mistakes if they step out of their comfort zone. So they avoid taking risks. They stick to what they know best, where they feel in control and able to meet their high standards.

This might mean not exploring a new hobby or turning down chances at work to learn and grow. If you're always trying to stay safe, you will only reach your full potential and find new things about yourself.

How to Overcome Perfectionism?

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To conquer perfectionism, one must intentionally work on oneself and delve deep into one's inner thoughts. Here are a few recommendations:

Set Realistic Goals

Overcoming perfectionism involves setting goals that are realistic and achievable. Instead of striving for perfection and unrealistic expectations, focus on making progress and getting better.

For instance, if you're a writer, instead of trying to start with the perfect sentence every time, set yourself a goal to create a rough draft first and then work on revising it bit by bit.

It can also help to break larger tasks down into smaller ones so they feel manageable. This allows space for learning and growth along the way, too.

Embrace Mistakes as Learning Opportunities

For those striving for perfection, the fear of making mistakes is natural. However, this must come at a cost other than personal growth. An alternative approach would be to regard errors as opportunities to learn rather than failures or causes for embarrassment.

Each setback should prompt a period of contemplation where you identify what went wrong and how it can be avoided next time around. Say you make a mistake in your job. Complete an objective analysis that highlights areas for improvement and prevents similar incidents from happening again down the line.

Practice Self-Compassion

Being able to forgive yourself is essential for moving past perfectionism. Accept that you are not perfect and be kind to yourself about it. Imagine someone else making the same mistake – how would you react?

You'd probably comfort them and say, don't worry, everyone fails sometimes! Treat yourself with the same compassion when you fall short of your impossibly high standards.

Challenge Perfectionist Thoughts

Take an active role in confronting the thoughts that drive your perfectionism. Dig into the facts behind them and consider whether they're really true or if there might be another side of the story.

If you tend to think, for example, "I blew it! I made one mistake—so everything's a failure!" then ask yourself: Is that reasonable – or even possible? Wouldn't most people agree we can learn from errors without them turning out awful?

Think about aiming for more balanced viewpoints instead of just being negative about yourself.

Seek Support

If you're someone who strives for perfection, chances are, finding people who can really "get" what it's like to be that way could make a big difference. Think about things like cognitive behavior therapy or support groups – and don't forget your nearest and dearest, either.

Sharing how you struggle with perfectionism openly means others can say, "Me too!" Feeling supported is important, but so is hearing practical advice from those in the same boat. Group therapy sessions where individuals talk about their own experiences might help.

Remember: asking for help doesn't equal weakness, quite the opposite. In fact, seeking support takes real strength.


In a world where perfection is often seen as the ultimate goal, it's important to understand what perfectionism really involves. Perfectionism can push people towards success and personal growth.

But there's a darker side, too: never feeling pleased with anything, relationships turning sour, and missed opportunities. The first step toward dealing with these problems is admitting that you have them. After that, at least four things can help.

Find others who understand and can support you, be kinder to yourself, set achievable targets instead of demanding everything goes perfectly, and remember that everyone makes mistakes sometimes.

If you manage to change your mindset in this way, life may feel less exhausting – and more satisfying overall.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Perfectionism Cause Obsessive-compulsive Disorder?

There is a potential link between an increased chance of developing or worsening OCD and being preoccupied with perfectionism, even on the tiniest details.

Do Perfectionists Struggle in Relationships?

If someone expects themselves to be flawless all the time and others aren't held to the same strict guidelines they set for themselves, it can make it difficult for them to form emotional bonds and create tension within partnerships.

What Are the Behaviors of Perfectionists?

Perfectionism manifests itself in various ways: redoing tasks, being self-critical when mistakes are made or failures occur, setting – perhaps impossibly high – expectations for oneself, and not starting something because one is worried it won't be done perfectly.

How to Overcome Perfectionism?

Rely on therapy or support groups. Show yourself kindness while also embracing your flaws. Be realistic about what you can achieve while staying true to your desires. Question negative thoughts suggesting anything short of flawlessness is unacceptable.