The Perfectionism Trap: Striving for Flawlessness and Its Impact on Mental Health

In today’s demanding world, the pursuit of perfection has become increasingly prevalent. Many of us strive to meet impossibly high standards, driven by societal expectations and personal desires for success. However, this relentless pursuit of flawlessness often takes a toll on our mental health. 

Understanding Perfectionism

According to renowned researcher Brene Brown, perfectionism is “a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimise the painful feelings of shame, judgement, and blame.”

Perfectionism can be described as an unyielding quest for perfection, fueled by external pressures and internal standards. It often involves setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves and others, fearing mistakes, and seeking constant validation. There are various forms of perfectionism, including self-oriented perfectionism (setting high expectations for oneself), socially prescribed perfectionism (believing others expect perfection), and other-oriented perfectionism (demanding perfection from others).

The High Standards Dilemma

“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best… it’s a 20-ton shield that we lug around, thinking it will protect us, when in fact it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight.” – Brene Brown

Perfectionists tend to set standards that are not only exceptionally high but also unattainable. The pursuit of these rigid ideals leads to chronic stress, anxiety, and self-doubt. Falling short of these unrealistic expectations often results in intense disappointment and self-blame. The constant striving for flawlessness becomes an exhausting cycle that impacts our mental well-being.

Fear of Failure and Procrastination

A central aspect of perfectionism is the fear of failure. Perfectionists dread making mistakes and fear being seen as anything less than perfect. This fear can be paralysing and may lead to procrastination and avoidance of tasks where they believe they may fall short. The fear of criticism and not meeting their own high standards creates anxiety and decreases productivity, reinforcing the cycle of perfectionism.

Impacts on Mental Health

The relentless pursuit of perfectionism can have significant consequences for our mental health. Research has shown a strong correlation between perfectionism and an increased risk of developing various mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Perfectionists often experience chronic stress, burnout, and feelings of inadequacy. The constant pressure they put on themselves leads to emotional exhaustion and a diminished sense of self-worth.

Relationships and Social Isolation

Perfectionism can also negatively impact our relationships and social interactions. Perfectionists often have exceedingly high expectations for themselves and others, which can result in strained relationships and disappointment. The difficulty in accepting imperfections, both in themselves and others, creates a barrier to forming genuine connections. Moreover, the fear of judgment and criticism may lead to social withdrawal and isolation, as perfectionists seek to avoid situations where they might face potential scrutiny.

Escaping the Perfectionism Trap

“Let go of who you think you are supposed to be, and embrace who you are.” Brene Brown

Overcoming perfectionism takes courage, commitment and hard work, however it can be done! Even though it can feel safer to not make mistakes or be vulnerable, many recovering perfectionists have noted that they feel more alive and connected as a result of challenging their inner perfectionist. There are many strategies we can employ to begin doing so, including:

  • Recognise and acknowledge your perfectionistic tendencies. Awareness is the first step towards change. Start by identifying when you might have unrealistic expectations of yourself. 
  • Set realistic and attainable goals. Focus on progress rather than perfection.
  • Embrace mistakes as learning opportunities. Understand that making errors is a natural part of growth. Think of mistakes as features, not bugs of your development!
  • Practice self-compassion and celebrate your efforts. Treat yourself with kindness and acknowledge your achievements, no matter how small. Talk to yourself the way you would talk to a loved one.
  • Seek support from loved ones or consider therapy. Sharing your struggles and seeking professional guidance can provide valuable perspective and assistance in overcoming perfectionistic patterns.

Perfectionism may seem like a noble pursuit, but its effects on mental health can be significant. The relentless quest for flawlessness leads to chronic stress, anxiety, and dissatisfaction. By recognizing perfectionistic tendencies, setting realistic goals, and practicing self-compassion, we can break free from the perfectionism trap and prioritise our mental well-being. Embracing our imperfections and striving for progress rather than perfection can lead to a healthier and more fulfilling life.


Brown, B. (2010). The Gifts of imperfection: Hazelden Information & Educational Services.

Hewitt, P. L., & Flett, G. L. (1991). Perfectionism in the self and social contexts: Conceptualization, assessment, and association with psychopathology. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60(3), 456–470. 

Rice, K. G., & Preusser, K. J. (2002). The Adaptive/Maladaptive Perfectionism Scale. Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development, 34(4), 210–222.

Stoeber, J., & Otto, K. (2006). Positive conceptions of perfectionism: Approaches, evidence,

challenges. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 10, 295-319.

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