What is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism is a type of personality trait.

People who are perfectionists believe that if they do everything perfectly, then they won’t be held to blame for their mistakes. They feel like this will protect them from the pain of being judged or criticized by others. In some cases, perfectionism can lead to feelings of shame and guilt; however, some research suggests that these negative emotions are actually healthy responses to things going wrong. We also know that as social norms are expecting us to comply, and that there is a need for increased acceptance that the is increasing.

Imagine this scenario:-

Charlie is a cloud computing engineer who is working on a project for ABC. He is a highly motivated individual and always wants to do the best work he can. Charlie struggles with time management, and often misses key deadlines because the work isn’t completed in the time allotted. He has been working on this project for over 6 months, but because he has missed deadlines, and received negative feedback from his superiors, he is now being threatened with termination.

On face value does this feel reasonable? However, a further investigation with Charlie gives us a slightly different account.

Charlie is a high performing individual who wants to get things just right. He is a perfectionist. He struggles with time management and often misses key deadlines because the work isn’t completed in time for key events. Charlie needs help managing projects and time more efficiently so he can stop missing deadlines and get more done in less time.

Has Charlie been managed well? Should his line manager be more aware about the challenges that Charlie faces? What could the company do to help him further.

Aside from this, we also understand that obsessive perfectionism can cause stress and burnout, and reduce productivity. 

When it comes to perfectionism, there are a few different types. It’s important to understand the differences between them in order to figure out what type of perfectionist you are and what intervention will be most effective for your situation.

What is Perfectionism – The Healthy and Unhealthy Perfectionism.

There are two types of perfectionism to consider.

The first type is “healthy perfectionism”—that is, striving for high standards in order to perform at your best as well as achieve success. Healthy perfectionists tend to set goals that can be met within reason and then work hard towards achieving these goals without feeling overwhelmed or burned out by the process itself. They feel confident while they work towards their goals because they know they’re working hard enough but not too hard—the perfect amount of effort needed for success!

Healthy perfectionists are aware of their strengths as well as their flaws, so setting challenging but realistic goals helps them keep balance between being overly critical about themselves (which could lead down the path towards anxiety) versus being overly confident (which could lead down the path towards narcissism).

The second type is “unhealthy perfectionism,” where people tend to set unrealistic goals that are either impossible or not worth achieving. Unhealthy perfectionists often find themselves overwhelmed by the amount of work needed and feel burned out before they even start working on their goals. They may even suffer from anxiety attacks while they’re trying hard enough but still unable to meet those unreachable expectations!

Healthy perfectionists are aware of their strengths as well as their flaws, so setting challenging but realistic goals helps them keep balance between being overly critical about themselves (which could lead down the path towards anxiety) versus being overly confident (which could lead down the path towards narcissism). The second type is “unhealthy perfectionism,” where people tend to set unrealistic goals that are either impossible or not worth achieving. Unhealthy perfectionists often find themselves overwhelmed by the amount of work needed

To help understand more, lets consider what the perfectionist trait and behaviour looks like before we take a step into some remedies.


The Shield.

Perfectionism is a belief that if you can just do everything perfectly, you can avoid or minimize the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield.

The intention is to protect yourself from criticism, but in practice it often backfires by making your life more difficult and preventing you from completing tasks.

Perfectionists tend to be high achievers who feel like they’re never good enough no matter how much they do accomplish—and they’re sure everyone else thinks so too! They try self-improvement projects without stopping to consider whether those projects are actually necessary or even helpful in achieving goals; instead of finding satisfaction in their accomplishments (which inevitably contain flaws), they focus on what’s wrong with themselves and others around them until ultimately feeling hopelessly inadequate.

The Inner Critic – Self Critical Perfectionism

The inner critic is often an internalized parent, teacher, or boss that’s constantly monitoring thoughts and actions. The inner critic can be a harsh, critical voice that’s always on-guard for what it perceives as imperfection.

The inner critic often takes the form of an “I should” statement: “I should have done better in school.” Or another example could be: “I should have been more patient with my son.”

Inner critics are also likely to express themselves through perfectionistic rules such as these: “Should = bad!” or “Must = good!”

When the outcome doesn’t match the intention, perfectionists tend to get very hard on themselves.

For example, when you were trying to be kind and generous with a loved one but they ended up feeling hurt instead, you may feel like you’ve failed in your effort.

You can learn how to tell the difference between good outcomes and bad outcomes by practicing self-compassion. The idea is that if something feels bad, it’s usually not worth doing again because it’s not working for you. If something feels good, then maybe there’s some merit to continuing along those lines!

Causes of Perfectionism.

An individual who has grown up in a perfectionist family, where high standards and expectations are the norm, will be more likely to strive for perfection as an adult. In some cases, children may also learn perfectionism from peers or friends. When adults model their own behavior after others with whom they interact regularly (e.g., by rejecting imperfection from others), they teach children that rejection is normal and even desirable.

Some times perfectionism is driven by a fear of failure. This phrase is often over used – but in this case, the tendency for perfectionism can be paralysing and often lead to the individual setting unrealistic expectations and overly high personal standards or unrealistic goals.

At times, there is an expectation from those around us as to a quality level that they expect. This socially prescribed perfectionism can have a big impact on the way that we act and perform. Sometimes positive, sometimes negative.

Sometimes individuals adopt perfectionism because they’ve been blamed for mistakes or criticized when things didn’t go right or weren’t perfect—and then learned that avoiding failure was the best way to avoid criticism by others.

High Performance Perfectionism

High Achievers, perhaps.

Perfectionists are often high achievers when they match the right job – but in the wrong job, their tendency to get things just right hinders performance.

It’s an ongoing challenge for perfectionists to strike a balance between being extremely efficient and highly effective at work, while also ensuring that their efforts don’t affect relationships with others. It takes self awareness and courage to be able to recognise when ‘perfectionism’ becomes self-destructive or counter-productive.

What is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism and Mental Health.

Perfectionism is associated with a variety of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders (especially obsessive-compulsive disorder), eating disorders (especially bulimia nervosa), self-harm behaviors, and alcohol or substance use disorders. For example, perfectionism has been linked to depressive symptoms in adolescents as well as adults. Perfectionists often experience more negative emotions than nonperfectionists because they are more likely to expect failure if they don’t live up to their own high standards. Perfectionists are also at greater risk for developing anxiety problems due to their increased concern about possible failure outcomes.

The connection between perfectionism and eating disorders has been well established by research findings that have indicated that people who suffer from anorexia nervosa are more likely than others with similar psychological profiles but without anorexia nervosa symptoms to endorse perfectionistic beliefs about success in life; similarly, those who have bulimia nervosa typically exhibit high levels of perfectionism when compared with individuals without eating disorder diagnoses but otherwise similar characteristics across other variables (e.g., age).


You might have perfectionist tendencies if you:

  • Have difficulty trusting others. Perfectionists often have a hard time trusting others, which can make it difficult for them to open up about their feelings and fears. They may also believe that other people won’t accept them as they are, so they hide their imperfections from others in order to feel accepted.
  • Have difficulty accepting feedback from others. Perfectionists want to be perfect at everything they do, so when someone gives them constructive criticism or advice on how to improve, it feels like an attack on their very identities—they take it personally rather than thinking about how this feedback could help them grow as people and professionals.
  • Work too many hours instead of delegating tasks that don’t require your expertise or skill level (for example, emailing an article out loud instead of typing it).

Perfectionism can be a powerful motivator, but it can become a harmful factor when someone is so focused on avoiding mistakes that they miss out on opportunities to grow and develop. Perfectionists have high expectations of themselves, often resulting in their feeling like they’re never good enough. They are also more likely to experience negative emotions such as shame or guilt if they don’t live up to those expectations.

As we saw in the initial example, Charlie has been identified as a perfectionist.

Perhaps we can now, from a coaching perspective, build some interventions to assist in keeping Charlie at ABC. For simplicity, some considerations can be accessed here.

Share This