The Dark Side of Perfectionism

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🖊 This article was last updated on August 26, 2020

Do you have an all-or-nothing approach to your work or life in general? Are your standards too high for most people? Perhaps you tend to procrastinate out of fear for producing sub-par work? If your answer is Yes to any these questions, you might be a perfectionist. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it can hurt your performance and keep you from enjoying life to the fullest.

Most people believe that perfectionism is a positive trait. After all, who wouldn’t want to work with someone who goes back and forth to complete a project and does everything by the book?

But, according to the latest research, perfectionism is a vulnerability factor and a chronic source of stress. Those who possess this personality trait aren’t really trying to be perfect but avoiding not being good enough. They are never satisfied with the outcome and tend to find flaws everywhere they look.

Perfectionism and the Costly Pursuit of the Impossible

Calling someone “perfect” is a compliment. Therefore, it’s no wonder why so many professionals are seeking perfection in everything they do. Unfortunately, this sought-after compliment comes at a price.

Perfectionists have a reputation for being control freaks, uncompromising, and hard-driving. They set high-performance standards in their careers and personal lives, and accept nothing but the best. Yet, they’re never happy with the outcome. They always believe that they could have done things better, faster, or more efficiently. This leads to a state of constant stress and frustration.


Studies indicate that an increasing number of young people are struggling with depression and anxiety. Globally, over 300 million people suffer from these disorders.

Psychologists believe that the global epidemic of mental disorders is partly due to the excessive standards that we hold for ourselves. Young people, in particular, have unrealistic expectations for professional achievement, personal possessions, physical appearance, and other aspects that govern their lives.

Perfectionism is a multifaceted personality style that comes in many forms. Each has its own share of psychological and interpersonal difficulties. Those who possess this personality trait require themselves – and others – to be perfect. This leads to a constant lack of satisfaction, regardless of their performance. Perfectionists often end up feeling that they are a failure despite having success in their personal and professional lives.

Think of it as a double-edged sword

On one hand, there’s nothing wrong about having high standards and striving for excellence. This gives you a competitive edge in business and contributes to your overall success. It also pushes you to reach peak performance and keeps you motivated.

On the other hand, perfectionism involves a tendency to set standards and expectations that are so high that they often cannot be met or require great sacrifice. There is no such thing as perfection. This concept is subjective and relies on unrealistic beliefs. Striving for perfection is a recipe for failure.


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Studies confirm these hidden dangers of perfectionism. According to a 2009 report conducted on 450 subjects over six and half years, those who had this personality trait were more likely to die early. The constant desire to achieve perfection has been linked to eating disorders, attempted or completed suicide, self-critical depression insomnia, and higher rates of chronic diseases.

16 Signs That You Might Be a Perfectionist

Surprisingly, people who fall into this category are rarely aware of it. They think of themselves as just having higher standards than the rest or being results-oriented. According to research, as many as two in five children and teens are perfectionists. Today, the average college student is more likely to have this trait than a student in the ’90s or early 2000s.

But how can you tell you’re a perfectionist? Let’s take a look at some traits that people with perfectionistic tendencies have in common:

  • No matter how hard you work, you’re never satisfied with your performance
  • You don’t allow yourself any mistakes
  • You never celebrate and accept your success
  • You often struggle with paralysis by analysis – you tend to over-analyze things so that a decision or action is never taken
  • You keep ideas and projects for yourself until they’re ready for prime time
  • You never find time to relax
  • You tend to judge and criticize others
  • You can’t trust others to do a task correctly, so you prefer to do everything yourself
  • You have an all-or-nothing approach
  • Your self-confidence is directly related to what you accomplish
  • You avoid situations where you think you might not excel
  • You tend to fixate on what you did wrong
  • You have a difficult time completing a project because you think you could do it better
  • You fear failure more than anything else
  • You take constructive criticism defensively instead of learning from it
  • You don’t feel confident about yourself

Let’s take the following example. You work hard to finish a project that requires weeks of research to get just right. The client is so happy with the results that he refers you to 3 other potential clients. Yet, you feel frustrated because you know that if you want to deliver similar results to these new clients, you can only take on one new client, instead of three. Even though you could’ve used the extra income.

Taking on new clients

Perfectionism affects your personal life too, not just your career. For instance, you start a diet in order to lose those pesky pounds and get in shape. You eat clean and exercise regularly for weeks.

One evening, you go out with your friends and indulge in a slice of cake. But instead of returning to your diet the next day, you give up completely. It’s either you do everything well, or you don’t do it at all. For a perfectionist, there’s no room for compromise.

Is It Possible to Overcome Perfectionism?

Since perfectionism is a personality trait, you can’t simply switch it off. However, once you acknowledge it and become aware of its drawbacks, you can take the steps needed to change your behavior.

Start by accepting yourself and others. Think of your mistakes as an opportunity to learn and grow. Be open to criticism and new ideas. Remember:

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There is more than one way to do things. Just because others think or act differently than you, doesn’t mean they are wrong. Trust them and delegate tasks whenever you have too much on your plate. Learn to relax and be kind to yourself. Celebrate your accomplishments instead of focusing on mistakes.

You are unique, not perfect.

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