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Are You a Perfectionist? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

Perfectionism might seem like a helpful trait, but it can actually be harmful. Perfectionism describes when a person always tries to be flawless, is very hard on themselves, and worries about what others think of them and their abilities. 


High expectations around school, career, and social success contribute to perfectionism in India. And while perfectionism can drive these kinds of achievements, it can also contribute significantly to mental health challenges along the way.


What is perfectionism?


Perfectionism means demanding perfect results from yourself (and sometimes others), where anything less than perfect feels like a failure.  It’s not just about setting high standards; it’s about an all-or-nothing approach to life. In other words, anything that is not perfect is a failure – there is no in-between or good enough.


This can look like spending too much time on tasks to make them error-free, not wanting to delegate work, and avoiding trying new things or pursuing new opportunities out of fear of failing. Perfectionists often fear mistakes, worry about others’ judgments, and feel nothing is good enough unless it’s flawless. 


What causes perfectionism?


Perfectionism develops from a blend of personality and environmental factors. 


Psychologically, it ties closely with personality traits like conscientiousness and neuroticism, which combine to make some people not only diligent and efficient but also prone to anxiety and worry


Perfectionism also depends on the environments we experienced while growing up. High expectations from parents, societal pressure, or past experiences where high achievement was rewarded or seen as a means to gain approval or avoid criticism are common factors in the development of perfectionism.


How does perfectionism affect mental health?


Perfectionism’s link to mental health is complex. It can lead to stress, anxiety, depression, and even eating disorders because perfectionists are never satisfied and always criticise themselves.


These mental health struggles can worsen their feelings of worthlessness and fear of mistakes. Perfectionists may become afraid of taking decisions or risks, thus stifling creativity.


What are the symptoms of perfectionism?


Recognizing perfectionism involves observing your behaviours as well as your thought patterns. Signs of being a perfectionist include:

  • Worrying a lot over making mistakes or dwelling on past mistakes
  • Procrastinating because you’re afraid you won’t do a task perfectly
  • Feeling overwhelmed by or afraid of others’ judgement
  • Never feeling satisfied with your work
  • Setting impossibly high standards for yourself and others

How does perfectionism cause procrastination?


Contrary to popular belief, perfectionism and procrastination are intimately linked. The fear of not meeting your own high standards can lead to delaying tasks. For some perfectionists, this may manifest as never starting or avoiding certain types of projects or work. For others, procrastination might involve spending too much time planning the details of a task or project, thereby delaying its start.


This procrastination is not due to laziness. Instead, it’s a protective mechanism to avoid the potential pain of failure or criticism. But ultimately, procrastination leaves a perfectionist open to criticism from themselves and others, which they perceive as a failure, which feeds their own fear of failure and self-criticism, creating a cycle of stress and dissatisfaction. 


How does perfectionism affect self-confidence?


Perfectionists often struggle with low self-confidence, since they constantly feel inadequate for not meeting their own impossible standards. 


Their constant self-criticism and self-doubt get in the way of recognising their successes, which lowers their self-worth.


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How does perfectionism affect decision-making?


In decision-making, perfectionism causes ‘analysis paralysis,’ that is, a state of overthinking and second-guessing caused by the fear of making the wrong choice. This makes taking a decision very difficult. 


Perfectionists often conduct exhaustive research or seek overwhelming input during the decision-making process, in order to avoid potential mistakes. But this only delays action and fosters a state of anxiety and stress. The result is not just delayed decisions but also missed opportunities and diminished trust in their own judgement.  


What are the different types of perfectionism?


Perfectionism is not so clear-cut. It manifests differently for everyone. However, the behaviour and thought patterns of perfectionism do tend to fall into three groups, though many people struggle with more than one.


Self-oriented perfectionists, who set very high standards for themselves because they want to be perfect. They work very hard and are often too strict with themselves. 


Example: A student who spends hours studying for an exam, far beyond what is necessary. They are driven by an internal demand (or perhaps parental expectation) for a top grade.


Despite already being well-prepared, the student may feel compelled to review the material repeatedly, fearing that any grade less than perfect is a failure. This study comes at the cost of their mental health and social life, as the student sacrifices sleep, skips social events, and endures significant stress and anxiety to meet their own unrealistic goal.


Other-oriented perfectionists, who expect everyone else to be perfect. This can make their relationships difficult because partners may feel they are too demanding. 


Example: a team leader who expects flawless performance from their team members on every project. This leader meticulously reviews all work, pointing out even the smallest errors, and may redo tasks themselves if they’re not up to their personal standard of perfection.


They struggle to delegate responsibilities because they believe no one else can achieve the level of perfection they demand. This behaviour leads to frustration and demotivation among team members, who feel their efforts are never good enough.


Socially prescribed perfectionists, who feel like everyone expects them to be perfect. This pressure comes from believing others will judge or reject them if they’re not perfect. 


Example: A person who believes their family expects them to always look flawless and succeed in every aspect of life without showing any signs of struggle. This belief could lead them to spend hours perfecting their appearance and to hide any personal or professional challenges they’re facing.


They might overwork themselves to achieve accolades and recognition, fearing criticism or rejection if they show any vulnerability. This constant pressure to meet perceived expectations can result in significant anxiety and stress, as they feel they’re constantly being evaluated and must not fall short of these external standards.


How can a perfectionist manage their tendencies?


Managing perfectionism requires self-reflection on both behaviour and thinking patterns. But it also requires:


  • Setting realistic goals: Acknowledge your limits in a situation and set achievable standards from the start, for whatever you’re working towards.
  • Embracing imperfection: Learn to view mistakes as opportunities for growth rather than signs of failure.
  • Practising self-compassion: Treat yourself with kindness after a mistake, instead of criticising yourself harshly.
  • Seeking support: Seek therapy. Therapy, whether via digital programs like Mitsu’s or in-person sessions, can provide strategies to manage perfectionistic tendencies, address their origins, and contain the effects of perfectionism on mental health.

Understanding and addressing perfectionism is the first step towards having a healthier outlook, achieving more balanced aspirations, and kickstarting personal and professional progress.




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Raksha Rajesh (M.Sc., M.Phil., CRR No. A80195) is a clinical psychologist licensed by the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI). She has 6+ years of experience in helping people from diverse backgrounds build skills to understand and manage their emotions.

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