Perfectionism | Symptoms & Treatment Options | Zencare — Zencare


Perfectionism is when a person has excessively high personal standards and is overly self-critical.

Many people experience perfectionism, but not always to the extent that it becomes seriously problematic. But for some, perfectionism can affect relationships, participation at work or school, or other usual daily activities. It is a characteristic associated with a number of mental health problems, such as anxiety disorders, depression and eating disorders.

There is an ongoing debate among researchers about whether some level of perfectionism can actually be helpful at times. Some experts have differentiated perfectionism from the desire to excel. They suggest that the desire to excel can be helpful, motivating people to perform well and achieve, whereas perfectionism is usually more problematic.

If you struggle with perfectionism and notice that it is affecting your life negatively, seek help. Effective treatments are available to help you to overcome perfectionism.

Types of perfectionism

There are three types of perfectionism, which differ according to where the perfectionism is directed. People can experience more than one type of perfectionism.

  1. Self-oriented perfectionism: This is where perfectionistic beliefs and behaviors are directed inwardly towards yourself. You might have excessively high expectations of yourself.
  2. Socially prescribed perfectionism: Where you feel that other people judge you harshly or have excessively high expectations of you. You might feel as though you have to be perfect for others to approve of you or like you.
  3. Other-oriented perfectionism: This is where you have excessively high expectations of others and judge them harshly.

Prevalence of perfectionism

Perfectionism appears to be relatively common. One study found that almost half of people surveyed had perfectionistic traits, and that those with perfectionistic traits also experienced higher levels of stress.

Research suggests that levels of perfectionism appear to be increasing over time. For example, one study found that all three types of perfectionism increased by up to 33% in college students from 1989 to 2016.

Signs that perfectionism is a problem

Perfectionism can affect people in different ways, but some common signs that your perfectionism could be problematic include:

Mental health challenges associated with perfectionism

Perfectionism is associated with some mental health diagnoses, including:

What to do if you are struggling with perfectionism

If you are struggling with perfectionism, consider a combination of the following actions:

Therapy types to consider for perfectionism

Many types of therapy are considered helpful for treating perfectionism, including:

What to look for in a therapist for perfectionism

The best-fitting type of therapist for you will depend on individual factors, symptoms, your location and finances. When selecting a mental health professional, it can be helpful to consider the following factors:

Personal fit: As is the case when you are seeking therapy for any reason, it’s important to consider the potential for developing a strong working relationship with your therapist. The trusting working relationship with a therapist is called the therapeutic alliance, and it’s the number one indicator of treatment efficacy. Try not to let perfectionism get in the way of selecting a therapist and beginning therapy.

Qualifications and experience: It is important to look for a licensed mental health professional. This ensures that the therapist you work with has undertaken the appropriate education and training. In addition, ask your prospective therapist ahead of time whether they have specialized training and experience in treating perfectionism.

Talk in advance: The best way to judge how you might feel about your prospective therapist is to ask for a preliminary phone call. Most therapists will be happy to oblige. This gives you the opportunity to ask about:

Try to speak to a few different therapists before making your mind up.

Sources and references:

  1. Perfectionism is Increasing Over Time: A Meta-Analysis of Birth Cohort Differences From 1989 to 2016 (PDF)
  2. Perfectionism: the road to failure
  3. American Psychological Association, “The many faces of perfectionism
  4. How perfectionism affects your (mental) health
  5. Lifestyle and Mental Health
  6. Physical Exercise for Treatment of Mood Disorders: A Critical Review
  7. Sleep: A Marker of Physical and Mental Health in the Elderly