What is Perfectionism?

The MIND 24-7 Team | April 29, 2024

Perfectionism is a personality trait that is characterized by a tendency to set extremely high, rigid, or “flawless” goals and place excessive demands on yourself and others. While it’s good to push yourself and set large goals, being a perfectionist can make you feel stressed or disappointed if things don’t turn out exactly as you hoped.

Perfectionism and its effects on mental health

Initially, perfectionism might seem like a positive trait, reflecting our efforts to grow and improve. However, the reality is that mistakes and failures are natural parts of life, and an excessive focus on perfection can lead to unhealthy avoidance behaviors.

Though not classified as a standalone mental illness, perfectionism often correlates with conditions like OCD and various forms of anxiety. Let’s explore further to understand how perfectionism contributes to these mental health challenges and its broader impact on well-being.

Potential causes of perfectionism

Perfectionism, as highlighted by the American Academy of Pediatrics, suggests an inherent inclination towards seeking perfection in tasks and achievements. This tendency can significantly influence one’s outlook on life. Those inclined towards perfection often hold a “fixed” mindset, focusing on achieving flawless results rather than embracing growth and learning. In contrast, individuals with a growth mindset believe in their capacity to learn and adapt, which enables them to navigate challenges with resilience and without compromising their self-worth.

Individuals with a fixed mindset tend to believe that skills and abilities are innate, leading them to set exceedingly high expectations for themselves and striving relentlessly to meet them. Consequently, setbacks and failures can deeply impact their self-perception.

Moreover, there is a concerning trend among young people where high self-expectations and self-criticism contribute to a rise in mental health issues. This is evidenced by the growing emphasis on unrealistic standards in areas such as physical appearance, academic achievement, and career success. It seems that today’s youth are increasingly internalizing the societal pressure for perfection in all aspects of their lives.

Signs of Perfectionism

Having high standards doesn’t automatically mean someone is a perfectionist. Mental health professionals usually look at a person’s thoughts and behaviors to determine if they have perfectionist tendencies. Typically, they look  for certain signs like:

  • Setting strict standards for themselves
  • Needing everything to be neat and organized
  • Being afraid of making mistakes
  • Feeling really upset by criticism
  • Putting themselves down

Perfectionists also tend to have unrealistically high expectations for the people close to them, like family, friends, or coworkers.

The Harmful Effects of Perfectionism

Perfectionism can have harmful consequences. Following are some of the notable effects it can have on individuals’ well-being:

  1. Anxiety and Stress: Perfectionists often deal with high levels of anxiety and stress because they’re always striving for perfection. The fear of failure and making mistakes can become overwhelming, leading to physical symptoms like tense muscles, headaches, and even panic attacks.
  2. Depression: Perfectionism is closely connected to depression because the constant pressure to be flawless can make people feel worthless and hopeless. Perfectionists might constantly think negatively about themselves and their abilities, which can make life feel joyless and empty.
  3. Procrastination and Perfection Paralysis: Perfectionists sometimes put off tasks or avoid taking risks because they’re afraid of not meeting their high standards. This can lead to missed chances, more stress, and feeling stuck or unable to move forward.
  4. Low Self-Esteem and Self-Criticism: Perfectionists often base their self-worth on their achievements and how well they meet their standards. This means they might be exceptionally hard on themselves and not forgive their mistakes easily. Constant self-criticism can chip away at self-esteem, making people feel inadequate and unsure of themselves.
  5. Relationship Struggles: Perfectionism can strain relationships because perfectionists might expect too much from themselves and others. It can be hard for them to accept imperfections in themselves or their loved ones, causing conflict, resentment, and trouble forming and keeping healthy relationships.
  6. Burnout and Exhaustion: Always chasing perfection can lead to burnout, where people feel totally drained physically, emotionally, and mentally. Perfectionists might push themselves too far, sacrificing their health and personal relationships to reach lofty goals.
  7. Physical Health Problems: The stress and anxiety that come with perfectionism can also harm physical health. Chronic stress is linked to heart issues, a weaker immune system, and digestive problems. Perfectionists might also turn to unhealthy habits like over-exercising or extreme dieting in their quest for perfection.

Steps to help manage perfectionism

Overcoming perfectionism can be challenging, but there are steps you can take to help manage it:

  1. Set realistic goals: Instead of aiming for perfection, set achievable goals that allow for mistakes and learning along the way.
  2. Practice self-compassion: Treat yourself with kindness and understanding, especially when things don’t go as planned. Remember that nobody is perfect, and it’s okay to make mistakes.
  3. Challenge perfectionistic thoughts: Question the unrealistic standards and beliefs that drive perfectionism. Replace them with more balanced and realistic thoughts.
  4. Focus on progress, not perfection: Celebrate your accomplishments and the progress you’ve made, even if it’s not perfect. Acknowledge your efforts and the steps you’ve taken towards your goals.
  5. Embrace imperfection: Accept that mistakes and imperfections are a natural part of life. Instead of fearing them, see them as opportunities for growth and learning.
  6. Practice relaxation techniques: Find healthy ways to cope with stress and anxiety, such as deep breathing, mindfulness, or engaging in activities you enjoy.
  7. Seek support: Talk to friends, family, or a therapist about your struggles with perfectionism. Sharing your feelings and experiences can help you feel understood and supported.
  8. Set boundaries: Learn to say no to unreasonable demands or expectations, both from yourself and others. Prioritize your well-being and focus on what truly matters to you.


By following these steps, you can gradually overcome perfectionism and develop a healthier, more balanced approach to life. Remember, change doesn’t happen overnight, so be patient with yourself as you work towards letting go of perfectionist tendencies. In addition to individual efforts, seeking therapy like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) can be beneficial in challenging perfectionistic beliefs and learning healthier coping strategies. If you’re struggling with perfectionism, reaching out to mental health professionals can provide the support and guidance needed to cultivate self-acceptance, resilience, and overall well-being.

MIND 24-7 has walk-in psychiatric clinic locations in Phoenix and Mesa that are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help those suffering with perfectionism and anxiety. Youth and adults can walk in the door in any one of the Arizona locations and will be seen the same-day. We accept private insurance, Medicare, and AHCCCS. If you or a loved one needs mental health care, visit one of our convenient locations or text/call 1-844-MIND247.