Many people consider themselves perfectionists. They might work extremely hard to meet the high expectations that they set for themselves. Perfectionism can start at a very young age, with attempts to get straight As in school, sign up for every extracurricular, and impress teachers and parents with your work and good behavior. It can continue into the workplace in adulthood, and throughout other phases of life, like marriage and parenthood.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to accomplish your goals and putting a strong effort into all of your pursuits. But being a perfectionist can mean suppressing your true desires in life, putting your physical and mental health on the back burner, and dealing with chronic stress.

If we know that perfection isn’t possible, why do so many of us pursue perfectionism? Here are some factors that can cause people to chase perfectionism.


Perfectionism is often rooted in fear. A child might feel like they need to achieve perfect grades in order to avoid being disciplined or disappointing to the adults in their lives. College students may try to achieve a perfect transcript and resume so that they don’t end up unemployed and struggling financially after graduation. New parents may aim for perfectionism because they worry that making mistakes could affect their child’s future.

People worry that if they don’t do everything perfectly, they’ll face serious consequences. However, there is no avoiding mistakes in life, and people who truly care about you will generally be willing to forgive you for minor infractions.


Sometimes, perfectionism goes hand-in-hand with an anxiety disorder. Someone’s anxiety tells them that if they screw up, they’ll end up in a dire situation. People with anxiety can be prone to catastrophic thinking and falling into black-and-white beliefs.

They may assume that if they make even a small mistake, they will end up in a worst-case scenario. Their perfectionism might be an attempt to “outrun” their anxiety. They may feel that when things are finally “perfect,” they will be able to relax.


Ambition, on its own, isn’t a bad quality. Maybe you have long lists of goals that you want to tackle in your personal and professional life. But ambition for the sake of itself can lead you into a trap of perfectionism.

Are you striving for achievements that will truly fulfill you? Or are you simply grasping for impressive titles and other accomplishments that will look good on paper? If it’s the latter, being a perfectionist to fuel your ambitions will lead to burnout.

High Standards

Maybe you have high standards for yourself. You might be in a line of work where mistakes can have serious consequences, like medicine, or you might be an artist who wants to improve your work. Having high standards for your own behavior doesn’t necessarily have to lead to perfectionism.

However, if you’re unable to forgive yourself when you make a mistake, or you assume that you’ll never be able to recover from it, you might be on a slippery slope to perfectionism.


Many people who have perfectionist tendencies grew up in environments where they felt like they had to make everyone happy. You might have felt like you were responsible for everyone else’s emotions.

Your parents may have put a lot of pressure on you to fit a certain mold, and when you didn’t live up to this, you may have faced disappointment from your family members. If you feel like you need to please everyone, you’re probably a perfectionist.

Are you struggling to overcome perfectionism? Working with a therapist can help. Reach out to us today to discuss your options for scheduling your first session.

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