10 Signs You May Be a Perfectionist

A perfectionist is someone who has a personality that strives for flawlessness. This is often accomplished through fixating on imperfections, trying to control situations, working hard, or being critical of the self or others.

If you’re wondering whether or not you’re a perfectionist, there’s a good chance you are, at least to a degree. There's also a good chance you have some investment in the identity of being a perfectionist because of the positive connotations of the word "perfect."

This article discusses what constitutes perfectionism and why it's can sometimes have a negative impact on your life. It also offers tips to help you decide how much you want to work at moderating some of these traits and learn strategies to accomplish your goal.

traits of perfectionism

Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Press Play for Advice On Dealing With Perfectionism

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast, featuring Peloton instructor Ally Love, shares how to focus on progress instead of aiming for perfection. Click below to listen now.

Follow Now: Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Google Podcasts / RSS

Pitfalls of Being a Perfectionist

The problem with perfectionism—and the reason you'll want to know if you possess any perfectionistic traits—is that perfectionists actually tend to achieve less and stress more than regular high achievers.

Being a perfectionist makes it more challenging to meet the goal of being perfect, or even of reaching a personal best.

Unhealthy perfectionism is characterized by an excessive focus on control. People may become extremely picky and preoccupied with making sure that everything is flawless, which can lead to attempts to control situations or people. This can contribute to stress and take take a toll on interpersonal relationships.

The stress caused by this level of perfectionism can lead to feelings of anxiety and has been linked to outcomes such as low self-esteem, eating disorders, sleep disturbances, and psychological distress.

Recap

Unhealthy perfectionism can make it difficult to achieve your goals. It can also lead to worry, stress, anxiety, and depression, among other potential negative outcomes.

10 Perfectionist Traits

Perfectionists are a lot like high achievers, but with some key differences. The following are ten telltale traits of perfectionists, that you may be able to spot in yourself or in the people you know. Do any of these sound familiar?

All-or-Nothing Thinking

Perfectionists, like high achievers, tend to set high goals and work hard toward them. However, a high achiever can be satisfied with doing a great job and achieving excellence (or something close), even if their very high goals aren’t completely met. Perfectionists will accept nothing less than perfection. "Almost perfect" is seen as failure.

Being Highly Critical

Perfectionists are more critical of themselves and others than high achievers. While high achievers take pride in their accomplishments and tend to be supportive of others, perfectionists tend to spot mistakes and imperfections. They hone in on imperfections and have trouble seeing anything else. They’re more judgmental and hard on themselves and on others when "failure" does occur.

Recap

Perfectionists can often be self-critical, but they may also be more judgmental of other people as well.

Feeling Pushed by Fear

High achievers tend to be pulled toward their goals and by a desire to achieve them. They are happy with any steps made in the right direction. Perfectionists, on the other hand, tend to be pushed toward their goals by a fear of not reaching them and see anything less than a perfectly met goal as a failure.

Having Unrealistic Standards

Unfortunately, a perfectionist’s goals aren’t always even reasonable. While high achievers can set their goals high, perhaps enjoying the fun of going a little further once goals are reached, perfectionists often set their initial goals out of reach.

High achievers tend to be happier and more successful than perfectionists in the pursuit of their goals.

Focusing Only on Results

High achievers can enjoy the process of chasing a goal as much or more than the actual reaching of the goal itself. Conversely, perfectionists see the goal and nothing else. They’re so concerned about meeting the goal and avoiding the dreaded failure that they can’t enjoy the process of growing and striving.

Feeling Depressed by Unmet Goals

Perfectionists are much less happy and easygoing than high achievers. While high achievers are able to bounce back fairly easily from disappointment, perfectionists tend to beat themselves up much more and wallow in negative feelings when their high expectations go unmet.

Recap

Perfectionists often struggle to move on when things don't work out the way they had hoped. This can make it difficult to see anything that isn't perfect as anything more than a failure.

Fear of Failure

Perfectionists are also much more afraid to fail than are high achievers. Because they place so much stock in results and become so disappointed by anything less than perfection, failure becomes a very scary prospect. And, since anything less than perfection is seen as a failure, it makes it difficult to get started on anything new.

Procrastination

It seems paradoxical that perfectionists would be prone to procrastination, as that trait can be detrimental to productivity, but perfectionism and procrastination do tend to go hand in hand. This is because, fearing failure as they do, perfectionists will sometimes worry so much about doing something imperfectly that they become immobilized and fail to do anything at all.

Procrastination can lead to greater feelings of failure, further perpetuating a vicious and paralyzing cycle.

Defensiveness

Because a less-than-perfect performance is so painful and scary to perfectionists, they tend to take constructive criticism defensively. This makes them different from high achievers who can see criticism as valuable information to help their future performance.

Low Self-Esteem

High achievers tend to have equally high esteem; not so with perfectionists. Perfectionists tend to be very self-critical and unhappy and suffer from low self-esteem. They can also be lonely or isolated as their critical nature and rigidity can push others away as well. This can lead to lower self-esteem.

Recap

Because perfectionists are often so hard on themselves, it can contribute to feelings of poor self-esteem. Ultimately, this can have a serious impact on a person's self-image and overall life satisfaction.

Summary

Healthy perfectionism can drive people to perform their best, but unhealthy perfectionism can lead to stress, anxiety, low self-esteem, and other problems that can affect your quality of life. Perfectionists are often critical, driven by fear, have unrealistic expectations, fear failure, and are defensive when they face any criticism.

A Word From Verywell

If you see some of these perfectionist traits in yourself, don’t despair. Recognizing that a change may be needed is a very important first step. Once you recognize how these tendencies might be affecting you negatively, you can begin working toward taking a healthier approach that will still allow you to achieve your goals with less stress and negativity.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes perfectionism?

    Perfectionism can be caused by a fear of judgment or disapproval from others. Early childhood experiences, such as having parents with unrealistically high expectations, may also play a role. Mental health conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may also tend to exhibit perfectionist tendencies.

  • How can I overcome perfectionism?

    Strategies that can help you overcome perfectionism include utilizing positive self-talk and avoiding comparing yourself to others. Using techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), such as challenging your negative thoughts, can also be helpful. Practicing mindfulness may also help you learn how to focus on the present without worrying as much about the past or future.

  • How might perfectionism lead to anxiety?

    Perfectionists often struggle with feelings of inadequacy and worry that they will fail to live up to their own expectations. This constant worry can contribute to feelings of anxiety, particularly when perfectionism tends to focus on being self-critical.

  • How can I help a perfectionist child?

    There are a number of strategies that can help a child who exhibits unhealthy perfectionism. Parents and other adults should have reasonable expectations and focus on praising their child's efforts rather than the outcome. It is also important to model healthy, positive self-talk that shows how you can be kind and compassionate to yourself, even when you make mistakes.

Was this page helpful?
4 Sources
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.
  1. Limburg K, Watson H, Hagger M, Egan S. The Relationship Between Perfectionism and Psychopathology: A Meta-AnalysisJ Clin Psychol. 2017;73(10):1301-1326. doi:10.1002/jclp.22435

  2. Dunkley DM, Starrs CJ, Gouveia L, Moroz M. Self-critical perfectionism and lower daily perceived control predict depressive and anxious symptoms over four years. J Couns Psychol. 2020;67(6):736-746. doi:10.1037/cou0000425

  3. Damian LE, Stoeber J, Negru O, Băban A. On the development of perfectionism in adolescence: Perceived parental expectations predict longitudinal increases in socially prescribed perfectionismPers Individ Diff. 2013;55(6):688-693. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2013.05.021

  4. Ferrari M, Yap K, Scott N, Einstein DA, Ciarrochi J. Self-compassion moderates the perfectionism and depression link in both adolescence and adulthoodPLoS One. 2018;13(2):e0192022. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0192022