When is Perfectionism a problem? Tips to help with perfectionism, procrastination, wellbeing, mental health and performance by The Skill Collective Clinical Psychologist Counsellors in Subiaco Perth.png


Having high standards can often be a good thing. It can motivate us to reaching peak performance wherein excellence is encouraged, significant goals are achieved, targets are met, and this achievement can lead us to feel more accomplished or even happier.

It may sound strange, but perfectionism is not always about being “perfect”. That’s because it is not actually possible to achieve perfection. Instead, perfectionism usually includes:

  • Setting extremely high and demanding performance standards;

  • Relentlessly striving for these standards;

  • Basing your self-worth on meeting these standards.

The problem with perfectionism (also known as maladaptive or clinical perfectionism) occurs when our standards are set unrealistically high so that they aren’t likely to be achieved, which can leave us feeling like nothing we do is ever good enough. In other words, you can inadvertently set yourself up for failure. What’s more, perfectionism often means that even minor deviations away from the original goal (80% vs. 100%) are seen as failures. This can have a serious impact on our overall wellbeing.

(Scroll down to grab our tip sheet on When Perfectionism Harms your Wellbeing)


So what are some of the wellbeing and mental health challenges that we see linked to perfectionism? At The Skill Collective we work with many individuals who present with perfectionism, and below are just some of the ways in which we see it touches people’s lives.

Burnout and perfectionism

Meeting unrelenting standards can be really hard work. Meeting unrelenting standards, setting unrealistically high goals, and doing so for several tasks/areas of your life can be really exhausting. When you add all of these tasks up, and if you invest inordinate amounts of time in getting things done perfectly, is it any wonder that being perfectionistic is a recipe for burnout? 

Low self-esteem and perfectionism

Achieving things can feel good. We get it. But when the bar is set unrealistically high so that you’re not likely to attain your goals, then perfectionism can have a negative impact on your self-worth and self-esteem - particularly when you internalise the negative outcomes. Do any of the following sound familiar?

  • Do you base your self-esteem on your achievements?

  • Do you believe that being perfect helps you to avoid criticism?

  • Do you set goals for yourself above and beyond what your peers would?

  • Do you ride a roller coaster of emotions and self-worth depending on how on track you are to achieving your targets?

  • If you reach your goal, do you discount your achievement and double-down on setting even loftier goals?

  • If you don’t reach your (unrealistic) goal, do you see them as being due to your own failure and that you must try harder?

As you can see, an over-reliance on achievement coupled with perfectionism can have a significant impact to your quality of life and wellbeing. Interestingly, even high achievers can be vulnerable to this, as in the case of the Impostor Syndrome.

Body image and perfectionism

Perfectionism can also affect body image, particularly in the age of social media (Instagram, we’re looking at you!), but also in sports where there are idealised body images (e.g. ballet, gymnastics, body building). What we see in our work is self-esteem deriving heavily on one’s appearance, coupled with unhelpful social comparisons to images on social media, and a lack of scrutiny as to the context of the images (e.g. how much effort, styling, and filtering went into creating this image?).

Perfectionism surrounding body image can lead to unhelpful coping behaviours such as constant checking, restrictive diets, time and costs linked with attaining a certain image, and also trying to impose a body image that may be at odds with a natural body shape.

Anxiety and perfectionism

Being perfectionistic can be linked to heightened anxiety, particularly when you’re worried about being scrutinised negatively by others. A fear of negative evaluation is at the core of Social Anxiety and Performance Anxiety, and perfectionistic behaviours can represent an attempt to escape criticism. This can then lead to:

  • Behaving in ways to meet imagined expectations you believe others to have of you (e.g. going 'over the top’ with your efforts)

  • Continually checking if your progress is on track as expected (or if you’re failing to meet your high expectations)

  • Looking for signs of disapproval by others

If this resonates with you, there are ways to help dial down perfectionism and anxiety (see below).

Depression and perfectionism 

When you look at the far-reaching impact of perfectionism, it’s easy to see why depression may follow. What we’ve seen in our clinical work is:

  • Constant dissatisfaction with yourself (and low self-esteem) because of unhelpful social comparisons and a perceived failure to meet unrealistic expectations

  • Anxiety regarding being judged poorly by others

  • Burnout due to doing too much and trying to be perfect in everything that you do

  • Poorer quality of life

All of these negative feelings can easily wear us down and leave us feeling ineffective, powerless, and hopeless about our futures.



Finally, perfectionism and procrastination often go hand in hand, even though they don’t seem natural bedfellows. When you set the bar so high, and the task might seem unattainable, it can be daunting to take a step (however small) in the right direction. Procrastination can then create secondary challenges (e.g. failure to meet targets required of you such as project deadlines and assignment due dates).

Perfectionism is a dangerous state of mind in an imperfect world


Many perfectionists have difficulty seeing themselves as such, because they are not achieving their standards of perfection. So, spotting the signs of perfectionism can be tricky! Here’s what the cognitive and behavioural symptoms of perfectionism may look like:



Perfectionists often fall into a range of unhelpful thinking patterns, that are often inaccurate and inflexible. These can include:

  • Catastrophising: People with perfectionism may believe that even minor mistakes will result in catastrophe.

  • Black and White Thinking: This involves seeing things in extremes (i.e. either as perfect or as a failure)

  • ‘Should’ Statements: This may include statements such as “I should never make mistakes”

Check out our blog post for more information about unhelpful thinking styles!



Some common examples of perfectionist behaviours include:

  • Performance Checking: This can include constantly comparing performance to others or excessively seeking reassurance from others.

  • Avoidance: Avoiding opportunities for failure, such as not applying for jobs or promotions for fear you will not get them.

  • Procrastination: It is common for people with perfectionism to put off important tasks, until they know they will be able to do it perfectly.

  • Other counter-productive behaviours: Other behaviours including problems with indecision, excessive organising, slowness, and checking

Not only can these behaviours be problematic on their own, but they can also contribute to the maintenance of perfectionism.


There are many different options to help you get a handle on perfectionism. However, it’s important to note that the goal isn’t to ‘get rid of’ perfectionism altogether, but to bring it back to a point where it is adaptive for you, rather than destructive. The following options may be useful:  


Research has demonstrated that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for perfectionism. CBT for perfectionism has also been demonstrated to reduce associated mental health symptoms such as anxiety. CBT for perfectionism focusses on challenging unhelpful and inaccurate thinking patterns. It also typically involves some gradual exposure to “imperfect” behaviours and the prevention of safety behaviours (e.g. checking), to help facilitate you coping with these experiences.



There is a growing body of research regarding the effectiveness of ‘new wave’ therapies based on the principles of CBT. While CBT typically involves directly challenging unhelpful thinking styles, these approaches instead encourage the individual to change their relationship to their negative thoughts and the emotions that they bring. This means that negative thoughts have less power over the person.

If perfectionism is becoming a problem for you, why not Contact Us for a tailored approach? Our team has years of experience working with perfectionism and other performance issues in different populations (students, academics, lawyers, medical doctors, allied health professionals, athletic performance, arts performance).


And while you’re here be sure to grab the tip sheet on When Perfectionism Harms your Wellbeing to learn about the positive vs. negative effects of perfectionism, and how perfectionism impacts on productivity, burnout, and mental health.

Perfectionism wellbeing and mental health by The Skill Collective, psychologists in Subiaco Perth

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