What is Perfectionism and What are its Drawbacks?

6 min readJan 22, 2023

By Silvia Carli-Reese MS, RD, CSCS

What is Perfectionism and What are its Drawbacks? (Image Source: Shutterstock)

On the surface, perfectionism can seem like the perfect trait that increases your chances of succeeding. But perfectionism often leads to self-defeating thoughts and destructive behaviors without realizing it. It can lead to mental health issues like stress, depression, and anxiety. Excessive self-praise is also a result of perfectionism, where you strive for perfection out of feelings of failure or inadequacy. The downsides of perfectionism are often not apparent until you take a step back and analyze how your pursuit of perfection has been holding you back. So, what is perfectionism, and how can you shift your mindset Read on.

What is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism shouldn’t be confused with someone striving to be their best, nor is it about healthy growth and achievement. Perfectionism is the obsessive belief that a person can achieve perfection. Often, it’s thought of as something positive that can help you achieve the impossible rather than a flaw. That’s why you hear the term “healthy perfectionism.”

Perfectionism — The Battle of Never Feeling Quite Good Enough | Julia LeGallo | TEDxTruro

On some level, perfectionism can be self-motivating, pushing you to achieve more. The problem comes when you set your expectations too high, creating a sense of failure and unhealthy self-criticism that threatens relationships and leads to low self-esteem. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) often describes individuals who have perfectionistic quirks. While individuals with OCD may experience perfectionism, perfectionists fully support their behavior, blaming it on wanting to succeed to the highest level. Also, obsessive-compulsive disorder is a personality disorder whereas perfectionism is not.

Depression and Anxiety: What are the Drawbacks of Perfectionism?

There are many successful business people, athletes, or celebrities who are perfectionists. That obsession with being an overachiever is why many people don’t realize it’s doing more harm than good. But what are the drawbacks of perfectionism?


A recurring issue for chronic perfectionists is procrastination. Perfectionists conjure this ideal vision of how things should be, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, when it comes to getting down to the actual work, a perfectionist will obsess over every little detail and get weighed down by every setback, all in a bid to create the perfect outcome. The only problem is that when the “pain” of that intricate attention becomes too much, they put off the task to get some relief until they think they can do it to perfection. Because you want to achieve perfection, you tend not to finalize anything.

Perfectionists are always trying to perfect everything they do. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Deep-Seated Unhappiness

Since perfectionists are always trying to perfect everything they do, they often struggle internally. Perfectionists will beat themselves up and may even resent themselves when things don’t go as expected. When working in a group, they tend to fault themselves even for other people’s mistakes.

Perfectionism can create deep-seated struggles and unhappiness. This is often due to the avoidance or fear of asking others for help, even when help is greatly needed. Ultimately, the obsession with achieving perfection and precision creates a wall of pain and isolation that the person suffers from daily.

A Disregard for Health

Many perfectionists are so obsessed with achieving more that they pay little attention to their own health. A perfectionist will prioritize their work ahead of everything else. That’s why it is easy for such a person to work all night long and not even realize they skipped a good night’s sleep.

A perfectionist will prioritize their work ahead of everything else. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Often, it’s not that a perfectionist doesn’t care about their health; meeting deadlines and getting the perfect result is more important than a few days of early sleep. It doesn’t necessarily mean that perfectionists will automatically have bad health. It is their disregard for health that leads to the deterioration of their health. The constant upset about achieving the highest standards is often a bedrock for health conditions like insomnia, headaches, and heart disease. Some perfectionists may even turn to compulsive drinking or eating to suppress depression and other symptoms of poor self-care. In the end, the years of neglect can take a toll.

Difficulty Letting Go

A perfectionist will always have difficulty letting go of their imperfections, work, and mistakes made. They fear delegating because they don’t believe anyone can do the work as perfectly as them. They also obsess over work even when not there, afraid that everything will crumble if they stop thinking about it.

A perfectionist may also become a micro-manager after delegating tasks because they are worried those doing it aren’t doing it well. They also spend too much time correcting mistakes, including the minor ones that don’t make a difference.

Some people also spend too much time thinking about past “failures” even when they don’t affect the present or future. The refusal to let go means that a perfectionist will often carry the whole weight of the world on their shoulders, causing them to feel weighed down by even the most minor details.

Poor Relationships

Perfectionism often leads to relationship problems, as the person prioritizes work perfection over everything else. That means you get to spend less quality time with the people who matter. Some perfectionists will bring their work struggles into relationships lashing out at anyone when things don’t go well. Likewise, your obsession with perfectionism and having everyone around you measure up to your high standards may push them away.

Perfectionism often leads to relationship problems (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Mental Health Problems

Perfectionism is a physically debilitating mental disorder. Rather than acting as a driving force to success, perfectionism can contribute to severe mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and sometimes self-harm, all because of that brutal self-criticism.

Perfectionist beliefs may be involved in the development of agoraphobia. What is agoraphobia, and how does it relate to perfectionism? It is a disorder that causes an intense fear of becoming overwhelmed, leaving home, and being unable to ask for help or escape. The condition will lead to someone avoiding unfamiliar situations or new places.

Self-Love: Coping With Perfectionism by Embracing Your Imperfections

The problem with being a perfectionist is when you can’t prove yourself in what you’re trying to be perfect in, leading to disappointments. But disappointments are a part of life and don’t have to define you. If you already describe yourself as a perfectionist, that’s well and good. It means you are familiar with this personality trait’s healthy and unhealthy sides. To cope with perfection tendencies, you need to learn how to practice self-love and let go of the concept of control. But how do you do that?

  • Find the positivity in your flaws by recognizing that you’re a whole human being despite your flaws and lacking in certain areas.
  • Realize that your imperfections are what make you authentic and give you character. Whenever you find yourself obsessed over the portrayal of someone who seems to have it all figured out, try and imagine them in your life and realize that they would still have the same flaws you do.
  • Perfectionists attach their self-worth to their ability to perform not only to the highest level but to perfection. The goals you set for yourself should help you move forward rather than serve as a reminder of your shortcomings.
  • Surround yourself with positive-minded people who accept you as you are, with flaws and shortcomings.
  • Lastly, once you’ve realized that you’re an individual first and one bound to make mistakes, use these revelations to help others who may feel stuck in unrealistic domains of wanting to achieve perfection.

Perfectionism: Cope, Heal, and Thrive

Being a perfectionist might fuel your ambitions, but that constant striving for excellence can be draining, leading to feelings of inadequacy and failure. In the end, they might end up affecting both your physical and mental health as that concept of control is holding you back. Imperfections are a part of being human, and embracing them will help you live an authentic life where you are content with every outcome, positive or negative.

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