What to Know About Atelophobia (Fear of Imperfection)

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Verywell / Zoe Hansen

Atelophobia is an intense and excessive fear of being imperfect or making mistakes, says Aimee Daramus, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist and author of “Understanding Bipolar Disorder.”

Everyone feels like they can’t get anything right from time to time. For most people, this feeling is infrequent and fleeting. However, some people have an intense fear of imperfection that can interfere with their ability to live their life.

In this article, we explore the symptoms and causes of atelophobia, as well as some treatment options and coping strategies that might be helpful.

How Do I Know If I Have Atelophobia? 

These are some of the characteristics of atelophobia:

  • Having unrealistic goals: You may set unrealistically high standards and unattainable goals for yourself. Anything less than that may feel unacceptable to you.
  • Judging yourself harshly: You may be overly critical of yourself and judge yourself harshly for not being able to attain your goals.
  • Being unable to accept feedback: You may not be able to tolerate the slightest bit of criticism. Even feedback that is given constructively can feel like an attack because it points out that you are not perfect.
  • Experiencing fear and distress: You may find yourself feeling stressed or panicked when you encounter—or even think about—situations where you may not be at your best. In addition to emotional symptoms, you may also experience physical symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, nausea, chills, dizziness, sweating, and trembling.
  • Avoiding situations that upset you: You may avoid any jobs, assignments, or other situations where you might not be perfect, says Dr. Daramus. “You may even avoid meeting people who might notice any mistakes of yours.”
  • Ruminating over past mistakes: You may find yourself repeatedly replaying past mistakes in your head and becoming extremely upset.

Atelophobia can cause you to put a lot of pressure on yourself to be perfect, which can affect your self-esteem, make it hard for you to achieve personal satisfaction, and lead to increased risk of depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and suicide.

Why Do I Have Atelophobia?

These are some of the potential causes of atelophobia, according to Dr. Daramus:

  • Trauma: If you have experienced something traumatic due to a mistake you made, it can be emotionally scarring and cause you to fear making mistakes in order to avoid future trauma.
  • Upbringing: If you were raised by parents or caregivers who were perfectionists, you may fear being imperfect, particularly if they withdrew their love or approval if you didn’t perform well at something.
  • Genetic factors: Genetics can also play a role. Research shows that you may be more likely to have a phobia if a biological relative has it.
  • Toxic situations: If the fear of making mistakes is new to you, or if it only shows up in specific situations or with specific people, you might be in a toxic situation. In that case, the situation is likely the problem.

Is Atelophobia a Mental Illness?

Atelophobia is a mental health condition. It is a type of anxiety disorder that is classified as a specific phobia, i.e. an intense, irrational fear of something that doesn’t pose any threat to you.

Is Atelophobia a Form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Atelophobia can be a feature that is present in some people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD), says Dr. Daramus.

Here's how these conditions may interact:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder: One of the primary symptoms of OCD is an obsessive need to have things in perfect, symmetrical order. Someone with OCD may also experience atelophobia and fear imperfections.
  • Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder: Although OCPD sounds similar to OCD, it's a separate mental health condition. Someone with OCPD is extensively preoccupied with control, organization, and perfectionism. Someone with OCPD may experience atelophobia, causing them to fear failure and go to great lengths to avoid making a mistake.

Atelophobia vs. Perfectionism

While atelophobia is similar to perfectionism in some ways, it’s not exactly the same thing. These are some of the differences:

  • Mental health condition

  • Fear of making a mistake or being imperfect

  • Primarily driven by fear of failure

  • Physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety and panic

  • Interferes with daily functioning

  • Personality trait

  • Tendency to strive for flawlessness

  • Primarily driven by search for excellence

  • Not as debilitating and all-consuming as atelophobia

  • Not as severe in intensity as atelophobia

Diagnosing Atelophobia

If the atelophobia is strong enough to cause frequent problems in your work or relationships, or simply a lot of mental anguish, you should get evaluated by a mental health professional who specializes in treating anxiety, says Dr. Daramus.

The diagnostic process may involve:

  • Medical history: Your healthcare provider will require a detailed personal and family medical history.
  • Clinical interview: Your healthcare provider will conduct an interview that will cover the symptoms you’re facing, the situations that trigger it, and how the condition is affecting your life.
  • Health tests: Your healthcare provider may perform or prescribe other tests or scans in order to rule out other health conditions.

Treatment for Atelophobia

Treatment for atelophobia can involve therapy, and in more severe cases, medication.


These are some of the types of therapy that can help, according to Dr. Daramus:

  • Exposure therapy: Exposure therapy can help treat phobias. It is designed to carefully expose you to the situation you fear until you’re not scared of it anymore. A therapist who specializes in exposure therapy can help you gradually get used to making mistakes, thinking about them, discussing them out loud, and accepting them.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help correct problematic thought processes that contribute to the phobia. For instance, instead of thinking “If I make a mistake while doing this task, I will not be loveable anymore,” you can teach yourself to think “I deserve to be loved for who I am and my value doesn’t depend on how well I do this task.”
  • Mindfulness: Mindfulness can help you manage anxiety. By helping you stay grounded in the present, mindfulness exercises can help you cut off the spiral of distressing and fearful thoughts in your head. For instance, when you start to feel anxious, simply naming five things that you can see, smell, hear, taste, and touch can help take your mind off the anxiety.


If you experience debilitating symptoms of anxiety or depression, your healthcare provider may prescribe medications such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, or sedatives to help. 

How to Cope With Atelophobia

Dr. Daramus suggests some coping strategies that can help you cope with atelophobia:

  • Get used to making mistakes: Slowly, gently get used to the idea of making mistakes. Start by letting yourself make small mistakes that have no consequences. Work your way up to accepting bigger mistakes.
  • Find ways to calm yourself: Use meditation, mindfulness, a hard workout, or a favorite playlist to help you calm perfectionistic urges and tolerate imperfections.
  • Leave toxic situations: If you only experience atelophobia in one situation, like at work for example, the best coping strategy is to find a way out of the toxic situation.
  • Build a support system: Create a support system of people who you can share your fears with and whom you can count on to give you emotional validation, love, and care that is not conditional on how well you do something.
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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Sanjana Gupta
Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.