Updated: September 08, 2023

Perfectionism is a personality trait marked by setting excessively high standards for oneself, often leading to self-criticism, fear of failure, and difficulty accepting imperfections.

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What Is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism is a personality trait characterised by an unrelenting pursuit of flawlessness and setting exceedingly high standards for oneself. While it can drive achievement and excellence, it often comes with a darker side. Those who struggle with perfectionism tend to be highly critical of themselves and chronically dissatisfied with their performance, fearing that anything less than perfect is a failure. This self-imposed pressure can lead to chronic stress, anxiety, and depression as individuals grapple with the relentless pursuit of an impossible ideal. Perfectionism can also strain relationships, as individuals may expect the same level of perfection from others, creating unrealistic standards and interpersonal conflicts.


Perfectionism is closely linked to various psychological issues. The constant striving for unattainable perfection can result in persistent feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. Anxiety often accompanies perfectionism, as individuals worry about making mistakes or not meeting their impossibly high standards. These concerns can spiral into depression, as the perceived failure to meet perfectionistic goals leads to feelings of hopelessness and despair. Ultimately, addressing perfectionism in therapy involves helping individuals set more realistic expectations for themselves, fostering self-compassion, and promoting healthier, balanced approaches to achievement and well-being.

What Are The Symptoms?

Behavioural Symptoms

Procrastination: Delaying tasks out of fear that they won’t be completed perfectly.


Perfectionist Paralysis: Avoiding tasks altogether due to the fear of not meeting high standards.


Workaholism: Overworking in an attempt to achieve perfection, often at the expense of personal life.


Social Isolation: Withdrawing from social activities to avoid potential judgment or criticism.


Difficulty Delegating: Insisting on doing tasks oneself to ensure they meet one’s standards.

Cognitive Symptoms

All-or-Nothing Thinking: Viewing outcomes as either perfect or complete failures.


Overcritical Self-Evaluation: Harshly judging one’s performance and rarely acknowledging accomplishments.


Doubt and Fear of Mistakes: Experiencing constant worry about making errors or falling short.


Rumination: Repeatedly dwelling on past mistakes or perceived failures.


Inflexibility: Difficulty adapting to unexpected changes or deviations from plans.


Excessive Goal Setting: Setting impossibly high standards for oneself.

Emotional Symptoms

Anxiety: Feeling chronically anxious or tense due to the fear of making mistakes.


Depression: Experiencing persistent sadness, hopelessness, or a sense of never measuring up.


Low Self-Esteem: Feeling unworthy or unlovable, often tied to the inability to meet perfectionistic standards.


Irritability: Becoming easily frustrated or angered, especially when goals are not met.


Constant Discontent: Struggling with a pervasive sense of dissatisfaction with oneself or life.

Interpersonal Symptoms

Relationship Strain: Placing unrealistic expectations on others, leading to frustration and conflict.


Lack of Empathy: Difficulty understanding or empathising with others’ imperfections.


Isolation: Withdrawing from social interactions due to fear of judgment or rejection.


Difficulty Trusting: Struggling to trust others due to concerns about competence or reliability.

What Causes Perfectionism?

It’s important to note that perfectionism can be influenced by a combination of factors, and not all individuals who experience these will develop perfectionistic tendencies:

Childhood Experiences: Early experiences, such as excessive parental pressure to excel or a highly critical environment, can contribute to the development of perfectionistic tendencies.

Societal and Cultural Pressures: Societal expectations, cultural norms, and media portrayals of success and beauty can contribute to the desire for perfection.

Genetics: Some research suggests a genetic predisposition to perfectionism, as it can run in families.

Personality Traits: Certain personality traits, such as high conscientiousness and anxiety sensitivity, may increase the likelihood of developing perfectionistic tendencies.

Cognitive Factors: Dysfunctional beliefs about the need for perfection and the consequences of imperfection can play a role.

Coping Mechanisms: Perfectionism can sometimes be a coping mechanism for dealing with stress, anxiety, or low self-esteem.

Traumatic Experiences: Traumatic events or past failures may lead individuals to adopt perfectionism as a way to regain control or protect themselves from future pain.

Academic or Professional Pressure: High-pressure academic or professional environments can fuel perfectionism, as individuals strive to meet demanding standards.

Fear of Judgment: A fear of being judged by others or a need for external validation can contribute to perfectionistic tendencies.

Peer Comparisons: Comparing oneself to peers who appear successful can intensify perfectionism.

How Phinity Therapy Can Help

Working with perfectionism in therapy involves a collaborative process that aims to understand, challenge, and modify the underlying beliefs and behaviours associated with perfectionistic tendencies. We will tailor our strategy to you and foster a compassionate and supportive therapeutic environment. We aim to help you reduce the negative impact of perfectionism, improve overall mental well-being, and develop healthier, more adaptive ways of pursuing your goals. Below are some ways we might work together, depending on your unique needs and goals:

Assessment: We begin by assessing the nature and extent of your perfectionism, including its impact on your mental health, relationships, and daily life.

Psychoeducation: We will educate you about perfectionism as a personality trait and the associated cognitive distortions, emphasising that it can be changed.

Identifying Perfectionistic Beliefs: We will assist you in recognising and challenging the irrational beliefs and standards that underlie your perfectionism.

Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT): We can offer CBT techniques to identify and challenge cognitive distortions and replace unrealistic thoughts with more balanced ones, allowing you to develop healthier self-evaluations.

Goal Setting: Collaboratively we can set realistic, attainable goals that emphasise progress rather than unattainable perfection.

Emotion Regulation: We can teach emotion regulation strategies to manage anxiety, frustration, and self-criticism.

Self-Compassion: We will encourage and help you to implement self-compassion and self-kindness as an antidote to self-criticism.

Exposure Therapy: We can use this technique to gradually expose you to situations or tasks you fear won’t meet your perfectionistic standards, helping you learn to tolerate imperfections.

Behavioural Experiments: Together we can engage in behavioural experiments to test the accuracy of perfectionistic beliefs and challenge their validity.

Mindfulness and Acceptance: We can offer mindfulness practices to increase awareness of thoughts and emotions without judgment and to promote acceptance of imperfections.

Stress Management: We can teach stress management techniques to reduce the anxiety associated with perfectionism.

Role of Mistakes: We emphasise that making mistakes is a natural part of learning and personal growth.

Self-Evaluation: You will learn to shift the focus from external validation to internal self-evaluation and self-worth.

Relapse Prevention: Together we will develop a relapse prevention plan to help you maintain progress in managing perfectionism.

Family and Interpersonal Work: If relevant, we can address family dynamics and interpersonal relationships that may contribute to or be impacted by perfectionism.

What Causes Perfectionism?How Phinity Therapy Can Help


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