Because perfection is impossible, taking perfectionism too seriously can cause negative problems.

Although not a psychological disorder, perfectionism is a personality trait that can be harmful when it is extreme.

Perfectionism is a common factor in many mental disorders, particularly associated with anxiety and other mental health issues, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.

What is perfectionism?

Perfectionism is a trait, which can either be healthy (self-motivating and a driving factor to overcome adversity and achieve success) or unhealthy (a fast and enduring track to unhappiness).

Perfectionism can affect anyone, no matter their age or gender.

Perfectionism can make a person feel unhappy or unworthy. It can lead to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and self-harm. Even mild cases can interfere with the quality of life, affecting personal relationships, education, or work.

What causes perfectionism?

Although the exact cause of someone being a perfectionist is unknown, certain factors are assumed to play a vital role.

  • Primarily driven by internal pressures, such as the desire to avoid failure or harsh judgment
  • Greater academic and professional competition
  • Social components
    • The pervasive presence of social media
    • Harmful social comparisons

What are the types of perfectionism?

Perfection manifests itself in three basic domains that include:

  1. Self-oriented perfectionism: Imposing an unrealistic desire to be perfect on oneself.
  2. Other-oriented perfectionism: Imposing unrealistic standards of perfection on others.
  3. Socially prescribed perfectionism: Perceiving unrealistic expectations of perfection from others.

What are the signs of perfectionism?

Typical perfectionism

  • Unrealistic and irrational high expectations for themselves and others
  • Quick to find faults
  • Overly critical of mistakes
  • Procrastinate on a project due to their fear of failure
  • Shrug off compliments
  • Forget to celebrate their success
  • Unable to share thoughts and feelings
  • Dominating in personal and professional relationships
  • Look to specific people for approval and validation
  • Can be obsessed with rules, lists, and work
  • Sometimes become extremely apathetic

Toxic perfectionism

  • Desires success at any cost
  • Most focused on avoiding failure
  • A negative orientation
  • Do not believe in unconditional love
  • Expects affection and approval from others for a flawless performance


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What are the dangers of being perfectionistic?

Perfection is an impossibility. When taken too far or seriously, striving for perfection can lead to negative outcomes, such as:

  • Procrastination
  • A tendency to avoid challenges
  • Rigid all-or-nothing thinking
  • Toxic comparisons
  • A lack of creativity

Adaptive or positive perfectionists have high standards. They set lofty goals, desire growth, enjoy being challenged, have problem-solving skills, are achievement-oriented, and work relentlessly and hard for success.

Nonadaptive or maladaptive is often driven by fear of failure, feelings of unworthiness, low self-esteem, and adverse childhood experiences. If perfectionists fail to overcome desires or are not successful, it can lead to depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, and even suicidal thoughts.

Positive perfectionists are achievement-oriented, whereas maladaptive perfectionists are failure-oriented. Positive perfectionist takes perfectionism as their strength.

Are perfectionism and obsessive-compulsive disorder different?

Perfectionism and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same.

Perfectionism is a personality trait characterized by high expectations and standards, whereas OCD is a psychiatric condition, in which a person experiences intrusive thoughts and/or repetitive behaviors that they are unable to control.

Perfectionistic tendencies may or may not be a symptom of OCD, but the vice versa is not always true.

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Medically Reviewed on 11/17/2022
Image Source: iStock image

The many faces of perfectionism.

The Problem with Perfectionism.

What Creates Perfectionism.