The Dark Side of Perfectionism: The Costs of Striving to be Perfect

In this blog post, we will discuss what perfectionism is, the three types of perfectionism, and the costs associated with this relentless need to be perfect. A few tips for overcoming perfectionism will be provided.


Kaylee Procter


Welcome to another blog post where we delve into the fascinating world of psychology. Today, we are going to explore the concept of perfectionism - a trait that many of us possess to varying degrees. As a Registered Psychologist, I often encounter clients who struggle with the burdens of perfectionism. In this article, we will discuss what perfectionism is, the three types of perfectionism, and the costs associated with this relentless need to be perfect.

What is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism can be defined as a personality trait characterized by striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high standards for oneself. It involves an intense desire to achieve perfection in all areas of life, whether it be work, relationships, or personal goals. While it is natural to strive for excellence, perfectionism takes it to an extreme level, often resulting in negative consequences for one's mental and emotional well-being.

Perfectionists tend to be highly critical of themselves and others, constantly seeking validation and approval. They may experience feelings of anxiety, frustration, and dissatisfaction when their expectations are not met, both for themselves and others. Those who display perfectionistic traits typically tie their self-worth to their achievements, which enhances feelings of anxiety and shame when constructive feedback is given about their performance or they don't accomplish what they set out to.

It is important to note that perfectionism is not the same as having high standards or striving for personal growth. Instead, it is an unhealthy and unattainable quest for flawlessness. Those struggling with perfectionism are consistently trying to balance the need to achieve and the avoidance of the shame associated with falling short of others' expectations. This avoidance of feelings of shame can result in not trying at all or procrastinating; therefore, never achieving the standards they set for themselves. As you can see, this sets the stage for a vicious cycle.

The Three Types of Perfectionism

Perfectionism can manifest in different ways, and researchers have identified three types of perfectionism:

1. Self-Oriented Perfectionism

Self-oriented perfectionism refers to the tendency to set high standards for oneself and strive for perfection in all aspects of life. Individuals with self-oriented perfectionism are often their own harshest critics, constantly pushing themselves to achieve unattainable goals. This type of perfectionism is characterized by a fear of failure and a relentless drive to prove oneself.

2. Other-Oriented Perfectionism

Other-oriented perfectionism involves placing excessively high expectations on others and being overly critical of their performance. Individuals with other-oriented perfectionism may find it difficult to accept imperfections in those around them and may become frustrated or disappointed when others fail to meet their standards. This type of perfectionism can strain relationships and create a hostile or judgmental environment.

3. Socially Prescribed Perfectionism

Socially prescribed perfectionism is driven by the belief that others have unrealistic expectations and demands. Individuals with socially prescribed perfectionism feel immense pressure to meet these perceived expectations, often at the expense of their own well-being. They will often feel like they are crippling under the weight of others' expectations. They may fear judgment, rejection, or disapproval from others, leading to chronic stress and anxiety.

The Costs of Perfectionism: Why it's Important to Address it

While striving for excellence can be a positive trait, perfectionism comes at a high cost. Here are some of the ways in which perfectionism can negatively impact one's life:

1. Mental Health Issues

Perfectionism is strongly associated with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and body image concerns. The need to be perfect can lead to chronic stress, self-doubt, and feelings of inadequacy. Perfectionists may also engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as excessive self-criticism or avoidance of challenging situations.

In research completed about the impact of each type of perfectionism on mental health, the following was found (Curran, 2023):

  • Self-Oriented Perfectionism was linked to depression, anxiety, hopelessness, and body image concerns.

  • Socially Prescribed Perfectionism was linked to increased feelings of loneliness, worry about the future, needing approval from others, relationship issues, physical health concerns, self-harm, lower self-esteem, depression, anxiety disorders, and feelings of hopelessness.

  • Other-Oriented Perfectionism was linked to relationship issues, desire for admiration from others, hostility in relationships, and higher levels of vindictiveness. In romantic relationships it was associated with lower sexual satisfaction and increased conflict.

2. Relationship Strain

Perfectionism can strain relationships, both personal and professional. The high expectations placed on oneself and others can create a constant state of tension and dissatisfaction. Perfectionists may struggle to accept imperfections in their loved ones, leading to strained relationships and a lack of empathy or understanding.

3. Procrastination and Paralysis

Ironically, perfectionism can often lead to procrastination and paralysis. The fear of making mistakes or falling short of one's own impossibly high standards can result in a fear of taking action. This can hinder personal and professional growth, as individuals may avoid challenges or opportunities for fear of failure. They may do anything possible to avoid the feelings of shame associated will not living up to your own or others' expectations.

4. Burnout

Perfectionists are at a high risk of experiencing burnout due to the intense expectations they place on themselves or perceive from others. This constant pressure to meet unrealistic expectations can lead to chronic stress, exhaustion, and a diminished sense of self-worth. Burnout can have long-lasting effects on one's physical and mental well-being, often requiring professional intervention to overcome.

Embracing Imperfection: Finding Balance

It is important to recognize that perfectionism is not a sustainable or healthy way of living. Instead, we should strive for balance and self-acceptance. Here are a few strategies to start overcoming the harmful effects of perfectionism:

1. Set Realistic Goals

Acknowledge that perfection is unattainable and set realistic goals for yourself. Break larger tasks into smaller, manageable steps, and celebrate progress rather than fixating on perfection. Remember that mistakes and setbacks are a natural part of the learning process.

2. Practice Self-Compassion

Be kind to yourself and practice self-compassion. Treat yourself with the same understanding and forgiveness that you would offer to a friend. Embrace your imperfections and recognize that they contribute to your unique identity and growth as an individual. For more resources on how to start practicing self compassion, click here:

3. Seek Support

If perfectionism is causing significant distress in your life, consider seeking support from a Registered Psychologist. They can help you explore the underlying causes of your perfectionistic tendencies and develop healthier coping strategies. Tri Lotus Psychotherapy offers Calgary counselling for overcoming perfectionism. Online therapy options are available throughout Alberta.

In conclusion, perfectionism is a complex trait that can have profound impacts on our mental, emotional, and social well-being. By understanding the different types of perfectionism and the costs associated with this pursuit of flawlessness, we can begin to challenge and overcome its negative effects. Remember, life is a journey, and embracing imperfection can lead to greater happiness and fulfillment.


Curran, T. (2023). The Perfection Trap: Embracing the Power of Good Enough. Simon and Schuster.