Perfectionism — Understand Your Worst Enemy

2 min read

Set against a gentle, subdued background, a porcelain statue captures attention with its faceless yet perfect form. The statue's right hand firmly holds a hammer, raised in a manner suggesting an intention to mar its own faultless surface. Porcelain fragments and dust surround the statue's base, hinting at a process of change or self-destruction. The ambiance is set by soft, diffused lighting which casts faint shadows, accentuating the statue's elegance without drawing attention away from it.

Perfectionism is often seen by people as a positive trait that increases your success in life, while it can lead to negative behaviors and thoughts that make it harder to achieve success. It may also lead to stress, depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.


Perfectionism is not the same thing as trying and working hard to be your best. Perfection is not about healthy achievements and growth.

It’s often defined as the need to be (or appear to be) perfect, or even to believe that it’s possible to achieve perfection. It is viewed as a positive trait rather than a flaw. Perfectionistic people tend to use the term “healthy perfectionism” to describe or justify a perfectionistic behavior.

Brené Brown, a writer and research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, explains that perfectionism is used by many people as a shield to protect against the pain of judgement, blame, or shame.


I think that most people engage in perfectionism from time to time, but people who are full-time perfectionists may feel the need to stay perfect constantly. They might also:

  • Be unable to perform a task unless they know they can achieve it perfectly.
  • Not finishing a task until the result is perfect according to their perfectionistic standards.
  • Procrastinating. People with perfectionism tend to procrastinate the task until they’re sure they can do it perfectly.
  • Take an excessive amount of time to complete a task that does not typically take others long to complete.


Most people try to achieve success, but working hard and spending time to reach your goals doesn’t always indicate perfectionistic behavior. Perfectionistic people believe that nothing they do is worthwhile unless it is perfect. Instead of being proud of their progress, learning, or hard work, they might constantly compare their work to the work of others or fixate on achieving flawless output. Even when people with perfectionistic traits achieve their goals, they may still be unsatisfied. They may feel that if they truly were perfect, they would not have had to work so hard to achieve their goals.

Some examples of perfectionism include:

  • Spending 30 minutes rewriting a two-sentence email.
  • Feeling like you fail at everything you try
  • Becoming very controlling in your personal and professional relationships
  • Believing that missing a few points on a test is a sign of failure.
  • Focusing on the end product more than the process of learning and creating the product.
  • Avoiding trying a few activity with friends or playing a game for fear of being shown up as less than perfect.
  • Becoming obsessed with rules, lists, and work, or alternately, becoming extremely apathetic


Perfectionism’s cause isn’t always clear. It’s often a learned behavior.

People with perfectionism believe that they’re valuable only because of what they achieve or what they do for other people.

Many factors can contribute to whether perfectionism develops. A few include:

  • Frequent fear of disapproval from others or feelings of insecurity and inadequacy.
  • Mental health issues like anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). While a correlation between OCD and perfectionism has been found to exist, not all people with OCD have perfectionism, and not all people with perfectionism have OCD.
  • Having a parent who expresses disapproval when their children’s efforts don’t result in perfection. Some parents may encourage their child to succeed in every task or push perfection on them in a way that can be considered abusive.
  • An insecure early attachment. People who had a troubled attachment with parents when they were young may experience difficulty self-soothing as adults. They may have trouble accepting a good outcome as good if it’s not perfect.
  • Some people have personalities that are naturally susceptible to perfectionism.

People with a history of high achievement sometimes feel overwhelming pressure to live up to their previous achievements.

This often leads them to engage in a perfectionistic behavior. Children who are frequently praised for their accomplishments may feel pressure to keep achieving as they age, which can also cause perfectionistic tendencies.


To lessen perfectionism, it may help to:

  • Set realistic goals.
  • Break up overwhelming tasks into small steps
  • Focus on one activity or task at a time
  • Acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes
  • Recognize that most mistakes present learning opportunities

If you suspect that perfectionism is interfering with your well-being, speak to your doctor. They may recommend therapy or other strategies to help manage your symptoms.

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