Signs of Perfectionism and How to Heal

Perfectionism might look appealing at first, but when it becomes your only acceptable standard, you can quickly become stressed and less productive, which negatively affects your self-esteem and relationships. The longer someone has been a perfectionist, the deeper they fall into the trap. It becomes harder to get out, and simple hacks for letting go […]

Dr. Jocelyn Moyet, LMHC By Jocelyn Moyet, LMHC
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Published on Mar 05, 2024

Updated on Mar 05, 2024

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Perfectionism might look appealing at first, but when it becomes your only acceptable standard, you can quickly become stressed and less productive, which negatively affects your self-esteem and relationships.

The longer someone has been a perfectionist, the deeper they fall into the trap. It becomes harder to get out, and simple hacks for letting go don’t work — at least not for long.

That’s why we bring you this ultimate guide on how to manage perfectionism. This article will help you understand perfectionism and its signs, recognize possible causes, and explore how to heal your mental health as you overcome perfectionism.

Understanding the Nature of Perfectionism

Perfectionism has two major sides to it: adaptive and maladaptive.

Adaptive perfectionists set high standards for themselves but adjust their expectations to the situation. In contrast, maladaptive perfectionists hold themselves and others to rigid standards with little regard for growth levels and uncontrollable external influences.

Recognizing the Signs of Perfectionism

The first step to healing effectively from perfectionism is to know the true signs of perfectionism. Understanding the signs also intensifies your desire to overcome perfectionism. Moreover, knowing how perfectionism manifests in your life can help you track the changes as you heal.

You might be a perfectionist if you manifest most of these signs:

Although you may not have perfectionist tendencies in all areas of your life, you could be a perfectionist in certain sectors such as work, academics, grooming, and self-improvement, to name a few. Perfectionism, in any life sector, can cause stress and a lack of productivity, but you can avoid this by using these healing strategies.

Root Causes of Perfectionism

Identifying why you might be a perfectionist helps you deal better with this problem from the root cause. Perfectionist tendencies can be inherited, but most research shows perfectionists are made.

Most perfectionist mindsets develop in childhood and adolescence, where people adopt their parents’ unrealistic expectations as ‌reality. This has been an increasing trend over the years. Now, young people are displaying perfectionist tendencies more than ever before.

Parents with perfectionist standards influence their kids to behave the same way. They can raise a child with high expectations, unhealthy motivation tactics like shaming, and too much praise for abilities instead of nurturing a growth mindset in a child. Also, constant comparison with other siblings or peers can trigger perfectionism.

Social anxiety is also another reason many people have embraced perfectionism. Expectations in the general social environment can trigger perfectionistic behaviors when one tries to fit in. Social media also exposes people to diverse displays of perfection and hence can trigger the unceasing need to stack up to higher standards.

Personality disorders such as obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) cause perfectionistic tendencies. The condition stems from traumatic experiences, neglect, family dysfunction, abuse, and peer influences — root causes similar to perfectionism. Poor self-esteem can also encourage someone to develop perfectionism to cover up their perceived inadequacies.

Impact on Mental Health and Productivity

Perfectionism especially affects mental health, productivity, and relationships, though its effects can be felt in every area of life.

Several studies suggest that maladaptive perfectionism causes mental health and social problems, with the effects spreading over to physical health. Constant stress and anxiety from unmet standards fuels depression, even though some perfectionists learn to hide these mental health issues.

Poor self-esteem develops when someone perceives themselves as not good enough due to failure to meet certain perfection standards. This, in turn, affects relationships, since one struggling with perfectionism may hide from people so that they don’t notice their imperfections. Other people might also avoid perfectionists if they have a highly critical demeanor.

Anxiety over tasks is common with perfectionists since they fret over how perfectly they’ll perform a task. They postpone and take so long on each task since they worry about perfection, which reduces productivity.

Perfectionism promotes the development of psychological disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and eating disorders. When someone is trying to ensure everything looks perfect, they develop obsessions and compulsions. One might try to look perfect and start dysfunctional eating habits, causing bulimia nervosa.

Perfectionism causes mental, emotional, and physical burnout and is also linked to suicide.

The frustration, impatience, stress, and all negative experiences that come with maladaptive perfectionism affect every area of one’s life and hinder them from fulfillment. 

9 Ways to Heal Perfectionism

Make Excellence Your Standard

While perfectionism is the pursuit of flawlessness, often accompanied by harsh criticism for not achieving the standard, excellence is the pursuit of high standards with flexibility that allows growth. Perfectionists strive for perfection, but high achievers pursue excellence.

Various studies show that excellence is better than perfection for creativity, psychological well-being, and other factors that promote productivity. You can maintain an excellent standard for yourself and others and take steps to get there without pressuring yourself and others to be perfect.

Maintain SMART Goals

Goal-setting is an effective strategy for behavioral change. It can motivate you as you shift your focus from perfection to excellence. A recent study found that using SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals helped improve flow and performance at work while reducing stress.

You can use the SMART goals worksheet the American Psychological Association created to set goals for ‌excellence and growth.

Focus on Positives and Strengths

A study on the impact of positive and negative emotions on creativity motivation suggests that both foster creativity, but positive emotions result in a greater effect. This means that instead of turning toward perfectionist tendencies when presented with negative circumstances, use the emotions to create something positive out of the situation.

Further, positive thinking has been proven to boost productivity and well-being. But this isn’t about ignoring negative situations and emotions — it’s about responding positively to bring out the best.

Instead of being self-critical, focus on your strengths, even when dealing with others, to improve your performance in every area of your life. Strength-based thinking has been proven to increase workplace performance and well-being, therapy sessions, and self-improvement.

Focus on Improvement, Not Perfection

You can’t give yourself a perfect standard and expect to grow — this only results in failure after failure. As your knowledge and expertise improve in an area, you experience excellence in different levels that inch towards perfection.

The following tips help you focus on and appreciate your improvement:

Do What You Can Do Now Instead of Procrastinating

If you’re a perfectionist, you probably resonate with your inner critic pressuring you to perform perfectly at all times. For example, if you’re facing a workload you think you can’t manage or you may encounter challenges, you tend to procrastinate. You will busy yourself doing other things and not what you’re supposed to be doing.

Instead of procrastinating, adopt a mindset of doing your best with what you know and the resources you have at the time.

Psychology experts advise you to forgive yourself for procrastinating each time it happens and keep working on self-compassion even if you encounter challenges and negative emotions.

Replace negative self-talk with self-compassionate statements such as, “I am struggling with this task and it’s okay. Other people are struggling with this too. I can start/continue this work within the next X hours the best way I can do it.”

When you encounter challenges and are tempted to quit, tell yourself, “Hey I know I feel uncomfortable because of these challenges, but I can continue this task anyway. I can work through these emotions and make the best out of this situation in the next X hours.”

Continue training yourself to stick through your plans with the best you have and you’ll find yourself procrastinating less and improving more.

Maintain Your Focus on Purpose and Values.

Finding meaning in something fuels the pursuit of goals and reduces worries over perfection.

When driven by purposes and values close to your heart, it’s easier to tolerate imperfections you encounter along the way. You can overcome perfectionism through your daily activities by thinking, “What matters most in this situation?”

Make Room for Mistakes.

Perfectionists avoid mistakes like a plague, but in this imperfect world, we’re bound to make mistakes. To heal from perfectionism, you have to be compassionate and open to learning from mistakes that you or other people make along the way.

In the workplace setting, studies have found that a learning environment (where employees are allowed to make and learn from mistakes) boosts performance and well-being.

You can use statements like, “It’s okay to make mistakes as a human and learn to do things better” to shift from perfectionistic thinking.

Eliminate Perfectionist Influences

When changing a habit, you have to stay away from people or environments that foster the habit. While some people and places are tough to get rid of, you can remove perfectionistic influence as much as you can.

For example, you can distance yourself from a certain group of friends or unfollow certain people and companies on social media.

Get Help from a Professional

Effective healing from perfectionism needs consistency and accountability. That’s why you could consider getting a therapist equipped to deal with perfectionism.

The most effective therapy methods for perfectionism include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and group dynamic-relational therapy.

The best part about therapy is that you’ll get a personalized approach to your specific situation from an expert. They can help you consistently apply non-perfectionistic tactics to your daily life and stay free from the trap of perfectionism.

Healing Perfectionism Takeaways

Healing from perfectionism starts with an understanding of this habit, from the signs, and effects, to the root cause. Knowing these things alone is part of healing, after which you can focus on excellence and improvement, better things that lead you away from perfectionism to productive attainment of your goals.

You might need help following through on these tips, though. And therapists are equipped to help people overcome perfectionism effectively.

Get a qualified therapist matching your insurance to help you stop perfectionist habits today. You can choose one near you and equipped to handle your case online or in person. 


  • Although perfectionism isn't a mental illness on its own, it’s connected with mental issues such as anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Perfectionism can trigger a mental health disorder or hinder its treatment due to stress over imperfections.

  • Gordon Flett and Paul Hewitt introduced the three common types of perfectionism including self-oriented, other-oriented, and socially prescribed perfectionism. Self-oriented perfectionists ‌hold high standards for themselves, other-oriented perfectionists hold lofty standards for others, and socially prescribed perfectionists chase after other people’s expectations of them.

  • Perfectionism can be managed through treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy. One can be trained to change the core beliefs that cause perfectionism, how to identify and handle perfectionistic tendencies whenever they crop up, and healthier ways they pursue excellent standards.

About the author
Dr. Jocelyn Moyet, LMHC Jocelyn Moyet, LMHC

Jocelyn Moyet is a licensed mental health counselor with over 13 years of clinical experience. She specializes in mood disorders, coping skills, relationships, and self-esteem.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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