The Quick Report

This is Why You’re a Perfectionist… and It’s Not Good

Psychological studies have uncovered the causes behind why people become perfectionists in adulthood. It mostly stems from childhood trauma. The good news is once you understand where it comes from, you can change it. Here are 11 reasons that people become perfectionists in their adulthood.

11. You Seek External Validation

frustrated woman in office holding papers

In childhood, when parents, teachers, or peers criticize and/or don’t give a child enough praise, it can lead to an adult who is always seeking external validation. One of the rewards of high achievement is typically praise. Perfectionism comes as a coping mechanism to gain a sense of worthiness and value.

10. You Seek to Control Your Environment

frustrated man on phone at work

A child who grew up in an unstable environment, where things were chaotic or unpredictable, may turn to perfectionism as an adult as a way of controlling their environment. It’s a coping mechanism for ensuring order and stability. It’s also a method to foster self-reliance and reduce or remove dependency on others.

9. You Want a Sense of Security

stressed woman sitting on the ground next to a river

Childhood trauma that involves some lack of security or type of insecurity can lead to perfectionism in adulthood. Perfectionism can be a method for ensuring there’s a meal on the table, a roof over your head, a safe neighborhood, or a constant stream of income. Perfectionism can be a coping mechanism for never feeling insecure again.

8. You Have a Fear of Abandonment

sad man crouching outside on sidewalk

Abandonment in childhood can leave deep-rooted fears. Even the failure of an early love interest can create feelings of abandonment. Perfectionism can either be the gateway to independence and self-reliance or seen as the road to replacing what was lost. Becoming a person so “perfect” no one would ever want to abandon them.

7. You Have a Fear of Rejection

crying woman holding a tissue

While childhood rejection can be a scarring life experience, rejection is never easy at any age. Perfectionism, then, becomes a shield against rejection. Unfortunately, everyone has to deal with rejection. Even the best of the best get rejected. The “best” doesn’t always win the prize. This can be a hard lesson for perfectionists to learn. 

6. You Seek to Avoid Criticism

stressed out man in suit

It’s easy to see how such behavior can begin in childhood, triggered by a nagging parent, siblings, or peers. Perfectionism becomes a way of shutting down criticism and judgment. Unfortunately, this only shuts down external criticism. In the pursuit of perfectionism, the person is constantly criticizing themselves for every mistake.

5. You Have a Fear of Failure

angry woman

Being afraid to fail is a strong driver of perfectionism. Imagine someone who’s dedicated their life to a specific goal. If they don’t achieve it, their entire life could look like a wasted effort. That would invite criticism and shame. Perfectionism is a way of coping with such massive pressure.


Watch the latest episode of 'A Swift Look' with host Zoe J!

4. You Feel Inadequate or Unworthy

sad or embarrassed man hiding his face

Feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness often begin in childhood. It may come from parents or peers. These feelings may arise after you’ve achieved some success. Because you set the bar so high, you may not feel worthy of the success you’ve earned. You may feel like a pretender, and that you must work even harder to prove you’re worthy.

3. You Want to Hide Your Vulnerabilities

crying woman covering her face

Everyone has vulnerabilities. Those who wish to hide their vulnerabilities and weaknesses sometimes turn to perfectionism to shield, obscure, and hide their soft spots. But with the people you love and trust most, it’s okay to admit your vulnerabilities. It’s a normal and necessary part of being authentic in close relationships.

2. You Want to be Flawless

man sculpting in art studio

No one is perfect and everyone has flaws. Perfectionism is an unrealistic goal. It’s impossible to achieve. Trying to be perfect is exhausting and can rob you of quality time in your life. Perfectionism is being unfair to one’s self. It’s normal to admit your shortcomings. It’s also a sign of maturity.

1. You’re Hiding an Inner Shame or Guilt

crying woman

One of the most difficult cases of perfectionism is when it stems from inner guilt or shame. This often comes from trauma that occurred during childhood. Perfectionism becomes a coping mechanism to manage these feelings. However, recognizing inner shame as a cause is crucial for fostering self-compassion and healing.

Read More: Let’s Go Girls! Here’s How to Successfully Negotiate at Work