How To Get To The Root Cause Of Perfectionism (5 Causes)

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As someone who has struggled with perfectionism my entire life, it took me until I was in my 30’s to realize that my perfectionism was a coping skill that I was using because I didn’t love myself. I didn’t have a high sense of self-worth or self-esteem, so I falsely thought that in order for people to love and accept me, I needed to try to be perfect.

Maybe if I’m perfect more people will like me.

If I’m perfect maybe they will love me more.

If I don’t make any mistakes maybe they will pay more attention to me.

Does any of that sound familiar?

Of course, this might not personally be the cause of your perfectionism, or might only be part of the reason that you are a perfectionist.

In this post we are going to look at what perfectionism is, some signs of perfectionism, what the root causes of perfectionism are, and what we can do to start overcoming perfectionism.

What is perfectionism?

Perfectionism is what happens when someone tries their best to be perfect. A perfectionist never wants to make any mistakes, and when they do, it can negatively impact their life.

Never making a mistake is of course impossible, so when those of us who struggle with perfectionism don’t achieve perfection, we are often overly critical of ourselves and tend to have a lot of negative self-talk and beat ourselves up over it.

Some people might think of perfectionism as a good thing. It means that we strive for the best and have incredibly high standards.

However, what people that don’t struggle with perfectionism don’t understand is that it leads to a lot of increased pressure, scrutiny, and anxiety.

Perfectionism often also leads to overthinking, and even procrastination because we can be afraid that if we start something we won’t be able to do it perfectly and could fail, so we just don’t try at all.

While perfectionism itself isn’t classified as a psychological disorder, it is closely linked to anxiety and other mental health issues such as eating disorders.

Some signs of perfectionism

  • Having unrealistically high standards
  • Feeling depressed when goals are not met
  • Fear of failure
  • Low self-esteem
  • Being defensive
  • Procrastination
  • Black-and-white thinking
  • Being fueled by fear

What is the root cause of perfectionism?

There are many different causes of perfectionism, and someone’s perfectionism could be caused by one, several, or none of these reasons.

1) Poor self-esteem

When we experience poor self-esteem, it can lead to the false thoughts that if we can just be perfect and stop making mistakes that this will make us better people and feel better about ourselves.

2) Our childhood

Many times, perfectionism can be born in our childhood.

If you grew up with parents who we either physically or emotionally absent, you may have felt like you needed to be perfect in order to gain their attention or love.

Or you could have grown up in a household that had parents with extremely high expectations. For some parents, a child’s best is never good enough, and that type of pressure can develop into perfectionism.

If you had parents that only praised you for your school work, or your achievements, instead of who you were as a person, or parents that only punished you for doing badly in school it can lead to perfectionism.

3) Control issues

For some people, perfectionism can be all about control. If you experience a need to control everything around you, that motivation could spiral into perfectionism.

Trying to control everything can be a way that we are trying to cope with our anxiety. When we don’t know something, it can create anxiety because our brains can often spiral off into all of the different possibilities. So when we try to think ahead, or plan ahead, and take control of a situation, it can really be us trying to prevent our anxiety.

4) Low self-worth

When we attach our self-worth to things like achievements or our abilities, failing at those things can damage our self-worth. This can often lead to us trying to be perfect or attempting to never make a mistake so that our own self-worth doesn’t suffer.

5) A fear of judgment

If we are scared of what other people think or scared that they might disapprove of us, we can often think we need to be perfect to win the approval of others.

It can be difficult to not care about the opinion of others and what they think of us.

How to overcome perfectionism

If you struggle with perfectionism like I do, there are a few different things you can try to reduce the negative impact that it can have on your life. Some of these strategies include:

  • Allowing ourselves to make mistakes
  • Learning how to deal with criticism
  • Working on overcoming our procrastination
  • Participating in more self-care
  • Learning how to love ourselves
  • Decreasing the pressure we have put on ourselves
  • Going to therapy

If you are reading this post and thinking holy crap I think I am a perfectionist, or if you already know you struggle with perfectionism I just want you to know that it is completely okay. Recognizing that there may be something you need to improve or work on in order to make yourself happier, is the first step to real and meaningful change.


Is perfectionism a symptom of anxiety?

Although it is not usually viewed as an actual symptom of anxiety, the two are closely linked together.

In fact, there was a study done that showed that people who have been diagnosed with anxiety display more perfectionistic traits than people that haven’t.

When people feel like they can never make a mistake, it can lead to a lot of anxiety.

Can you be a perfectionist without all of the pressure?

It is possible to maintain high expectations without dwelling on being perfect, being overly self-critical, or experiencing self-doubt.

Just like we learned those behaviors or what way of thinking to begin with, it is possible to unlearn them or change.

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