The term perfectionist is often used to refer to someone who wants a task to be performed according to their ideal, down to the smallest detail. That fixation to meet your standards and achieve full satisfaction, is what psychology designates as perfectionism . Being a perfectionist is neither good nor bad. But there are advantages and disadvantages to developing this way of thinking that can become a problem if it becomes obsessive. In fact, it can lead to pathologies such as depression, by not tolerating failures or half measures.


What is perfectionism?

Perfectionism is defined as believing that it is necessary and possible to achieve perfection. Those who develop it as a pathology are usually convinced that something that does not meet their ideals cannot be accepted. This personality trait has different nuances , depending on the degree to which it affects an individual’s life.


Causes of perfectionism

There are several factors that can influence the development of perfectionism. Some of those pointed out by specialists are the following:

  • Genetics . Biologically there may be a predisposition to develop anxiety traits.
  • Authoritarian moms or dads . When parents push children too hard and punish them for their mistakes, they are more likely to become perfectionists. Infants assume that erring is not tolerable and that excellence is synonymous with being approved and loved.
  • Excessive praise . When minors grow up in environments where they are continually and excessively praised, they tend to become accustomed to a high degree of praise. They become dependent on these expressions to keep their self-esteem high. As a consequence, they will be pressed to obtain these manifestations of external praise.
  • Comparisons . When one or more family members are successful and constant comparisons are made with those who are not, the latter will feel inferior. These comparisons will continue within those affected. You will want to resemble other individuals whom you will idealize without measuring your own strengths.
  • The boys who suffer contempt, ridicule or are victims of bullying see their self-esteem diminished and they feel like losers. To counteract these feelings, they can fall into perfectionism.
  • Role model . The main behavioral reference of children are their parents. If these or any of them are perfectionists, it is very possible that your children will try to imitate them. It will be a feature that will mark the family environment.
  • Society . The society in which we operate has a tendency to promote competition and the achievement of excellence. There are parameters on what is considered successful or not. Many people become perfectionists trying to meet those competitive standards and criteria, leading to obsession.
  • Management of frustration . Some people have a very low tolerance for frustration. They are individuals who do not handle the fact of being wrong or not achieving their objectives well, a situation that causes them great discomfort. To avoid these feelings, they tend to fall into perfectionism.
  • A person with a high degree of neuroticism (a tendency to blame and worry excessively) is predisposed to create perfectionist traits.


Perfectionism has several edges , and its intensity levels will determine the symptoms or signs of its existence. Roughly, these characteristics are evident in individuals who believe they are perfectionists:

  • They demand too much on a personal level . They have a high self-demand.
  • They are organized
  • They have a high sense of responsibility.
  • They require order
  • They care a lot about avoiding making mistakes
  • They are struggling more than usual

Types of perfectionism

Despite the fact that perfectionism has been conceptualized and valued from a negative perspective over the years , today it continues to be studied due to its complexity and the different ways in which it is presented. Recent research speaks of two incident factors, “perfectionist efforts” and “perfectionist concerns.” Hence, this division leads to classifying perfectionism into two types: “Maladaptive” and “Adaptive.”

Maladaptive perfectionism (perfectionist concerns)

In this line enter the negative aspects of perfectionism, the dysfunctional ones. It refers to people who are obsessed with their performance, who are always vigilant of their behavior and do not tolerate the frustration generated by not achieving what they expected (exaggerated attitude). They tend to become paralyzed, suffer anxiety and have problems with their environment . Some of its characteristics are:

  • Your goals may or may not be achievable (unreal)
  • A failure, no matter how small, is a cause for discomfort or excessive sadness.
  • Not reaching perfection causes pathologies such as depression, anxiety, social anxiety , obsessive-compulsive disorders and eating disorders.
  • Procrastination (postpone activities.)
  • Polarized thoughts (it’s all or nothing.)
  • Excessive fear of failure.
  • Work addiction
  • Poor performance at work or school.
  • They become paralyzed when they fail or do not find the “ideal way or means” to carry out a task.
  • Hostility towards people who do not comply with your wishes
  • To achieve their goals they usually isolate themselves socially.
  • Lack of self-confidence and low self-esteem.
  • They give extreme importance to the opinion of others. They fear that they will not see their value in them.
  • Extreme order and control, even with the people around you.

Adaptive perfectionism (perfectionist efforts)

They are linked to the positive aspects of perfectionism. They are healthy attitudes that are related to success. Many prominent athletes, artists, and professionals have these personality traits. Discipline and effort to give the best of themselves in their projects are characteristic of them . They accept mistakes as learning to improve and they do not paralyze them. Among its features are:

  • High but achievable goals are set
  • They constantly seek to improve.
  • They are disciplined.
  • They are demanding of themselves, but there is no rigidity.
  • Ambition and effort keep them motivated when they don’t reach their set goals.
  • They are usually neat and organized.
  • They are aware of their limitations.
  • In their quest to achieve their goals, they do not take advantage of others or do harm, but rather seek to do so on their own merits. This good behavior is also seen in maladaptive perfectionism.
  • They are very responsible people with the tasks that are proposed or entrusted to them.


The consequences that derive from perfectionism are closely linked to the intensity of the perfectionist traits that are presented. It is important to note that a person can have behaviors of both types of the perfectionisms described (adaptive and maladaptive). That makes the evaluation complex. When there are obsessive patterns, psychopathologies are triggered and social life is negatively affected . Overly perfectionistic individuals show hostility towards other people and sensitivity to what they say or do. Anxiety is also common. They are fond of checking and planning everything they do, they compare themselves with others and see themselves inferior, which causes them anguish.

Advantages of perfectionism

When it is not pathological, perfectionism has several advantages. Being demanding of themselves makes these people good workers and that they seek to obtain optimal results. They are often great professionals. They are not easy to give up in the face of obstacles that come their way. They analyze all the options to find a solution. They are persevering and constant, which makes them not pay attention to the time it takes them to work on their goals or the emotional exhaustion that it produces. They are positive, they take advantage of their mistakes or mistakes to learn to be better.


When perfectionism is presented in a pathological way it can cause a lot of damage. These people tend to postpone their tasks (procrastination) because they do not have everything they need to achieve their goal perfectly. They have a low academic and / or work performance , because they waste a lot of energy and time in small details that are not relevant during their activities. This depresses them and generates feelings of antipathy among their peers. They are more likely to suffer accidents. Self-deprecation for not meeting their standards paralyzes and depresses them.


As maladaptive perfectionism is not considered a mental disorder in itself, there is no specific intervention. Despite this, there are ways to deal with those aspects of behavior that are dysfunctional. Psychologists tend to focus on the perfectionist identifying distorted thoughts as dichotomous (all or nothing) or catastrophic (otherwise I will never be able to do it). Self-compassion is a value to develop to combat these thoughts. Other tools that are applied is to carry out exercises so that the person takes perspective and perceives himself from the outside and with his own standard. That way you can judge yourself from the outside, just like a friend would. This way you will be more flexible and will be able to understand your situation. Gradually exposing yourself to your fears in a premeditated way will be another technique to apply to reduce the discomfort of your imperfections.

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