Perfectionism: 6 Consequences to Watch For

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 17, 2021
4 min read

‌‌There may be someone in your life whose perfectionism seems to dominate their personality. They may believe that, for something to go well, it must go exactly as they imagined or planned it would. Maybe this also sounds like you.‌

‌While perfectionism has become synonymous with overachieving, there are many consequences that come with this way of thinking.

‌Perfectionists feel a strong need to be or appear perfect. However, perfectionism isn’t the same as striving to be your best self. Perfectionism actually holds you back by creating unhealthy behavior in your pursuit to look a certain way. ‌

Perfectionism comes in two forms — adaptive and maladaptive. Both types of perfectionists have high standards, but when maladaptive perfectionists don’t reach these high standards, the outcome is more stressful. 

Some research indicates that perfectionism has three components: 

  • Self-oriented perfectionism
  • Other-oriented perfectionism
  • Socially-prescribed perfectionism‌

Regardless of which type of perfectionist personality you might have, you put harsh standards on yourself. You may think this is necessary to please yourself or others and to be perceived as perfect by others.

There are many consequences that come with this type of thinking. 

‌One consequence of perfectionism is procrastination. You may think that because perfectionists need everything organized and to be a certain way that they’re overachievers. But this type of thinking leads to decreased productivity. That, in turn, causes more stress and vulnerability. ‌

As a perfectionist, you may be an “all-or-nothing” type of person. When deadlines and events come up, you either view them as good or bad. You may get so caught up in whatever you’re trying to be perfect at that you end up not doing it at all. Or you put projects off past their due date because you are so worried about them being perfect. 

‌As a perfectionist, you put a lot of pressure on yourself. Or you perceive pressure from those in your life or society. All of these compound, which can cause a lot of stress. In high-stress situations, you may be more vulnerable to other problems. ‌

These include: 

You may also be more vulnerable to imposter syndrome — when you compare yourself to others and don’t feel like you’re matching up, especially in regards to intelligence. This can make you feel extra low. These unhealthy comparisons may also keep you from doing your best at work or school. 

‌Perfectionism can trigger anxiety and depression. Because stress and anxiety build up when you don’t meet the high standards you set for yourself, you may also become depressed. Some people can be considered “emotional perfectionists,” meaning they hide these feelings of anxiety and depression. 

This can be extremely dangerous, especially if you’re having suicidal thoughts or feeling worthless. These negative emotions can be dangerous. If you’re feeling this way, you should reach out to a trusted individual or a mental health hotline to talk about your feelings. 

‌Perfectionists may experience hygiene and health disorders. In severe cases, you may develop an eating disorder like orthorexia nervosa, which means you feel the need to maintain a perfect, rigid diet. If there was one day you missed your diet, you may have felt like you were spiraling. This need for strict control over your life can border on obsessive-compulsive disorder. Perfectionist tendencies typically revolve around control. When you lose that control, other mental health conditions can occur. 

‌Another consequence of perfectionism is strained relationships with your family or friends, especially if you put your high standards on your loved ones. This adds extra stress and pressure to your relationships and can cause them to fail.‌

Perfectionism with colleagues, friends, and partners usually commingle. You typically can’t turn off this way of thinking for one group of people over another. When you bring this thought process into these relationships, you’re judging the other person as much as you judge yourself. And that’s not healthy for any relationship.  

‌Another downside to the perfectionist mindset is that perfectionists often are not actually present in the moment. Because you’re worried about or critiquing what’s going on around you, you’re living inside your head. You may be worried about a future decision or replaying something that happened today. ‌

Either way, you’re not focused on the present in front of you. That’s another limitation that leads to procrastination and self-loathing.‌

While some may tell you perfectionism is a good trait, there are plenty of downfalls to this way of thinking. The first step in facing your perfectionism is acknowledging that it doesn't help you.