Pathological Perfectionism May Be Linked To Childhood

pathological perfectionism

A person who is a pathological perfectionist may be defined as one who feels obsessively driven to continually meet the exceptionally exacting standards s/he invariably sets him/ herself AND this behaviour leads to significantly adverse effects. FURTHERMORE, a person suffering from this is too dependent on performing exceptionally well to maintain his/her self-esteem.

Negative Consequences Of Pathological Perfectionism May Include:

 – social isolation (so busy trying to attain great success the person is likely to have little time to socialise/ maintain a relationship)

– no hobbies/ no time spent on recreation (s/he may see these things as a ‘waste of time’ and/or feel guilty about undertaking such ‘frivolities’

– limited range of interests



– poor concentration

– obsessive preoccupation with errors/perceived failure

– constant self-criticism

fear of failure leading to procrastination and avoidance of tasks


Pathological Perfectionism May Also Increase The Chances Of Developing Conditions Such As The Following:

– depression

– anxiety

– obsessive-compulsive disorder

– insomnia

– eating disorders ( e.g in quest to have ‘perfect’ body)

Futile Treadmill:

Pathological perfectionists are likely to discount, dismiss or minimize their successes and fixate only on how they perceive themselves to have ‘fallen short’. No amount of success satisfies them, they always need to do better and achieve more.

In this way, they become trapped on an exhausting, debilitating treadmill, never reaching their ‘destination.’ An utterly futile exercise.

Of course, striving for success can also be undertaken in a more psychologically and physically healthy manner. There is no set point when striving for success becomes so intense and obsessive that it could be termed ‘pathological’, but the more negative consequences it gives rise to, the more likely it becomes that it could reasonably be so categorised.

Also, when deciding if one’s perfectionism is pathological, to what degree one’s self-esteem is dependent upon always achieving great success is a particularly important consideration; the greater the dependency, the more unhealthy the person’s mode of perfectionism is likely to be.

Do Certain Types Of Childhood Increase A Person’s Likelihood Of Developing Pathological Perfectionism?

It is likely that genetic inheritance can put a person at greater risk of developing pathological perfectionism than average. However, so far the research suggests that environment plays a larger role.

For example, if one was brought up by parents who only showed their offspring affection and approval when they excelled in their activities (in other words, the parents’ love was conditional upon the offspring’s achievement levels – eg academic, sporting, musical achievement etc – click here to read my article about problems gifted children may face) such offspring might grow up to develop pathological perfectionism ( in an attempt, conscious or unconscious, to win/ keep their parents’ love).

Also, if one experienced a childhood in which there was significant psychological upheaval and one grew up, in consequence,with a deep sense of life ‘being out of control’, one may become a pathological perfectionist in an attempt to compensate for this. A workaholic, for example, may be so driven in his/her work/career as all other areas of his/ her life feel out of control.


Pathological perfectionism can respond very well to cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). Also, if the perfectionism is linked to other conditions (as mentioned above), these too may improve if pathological perfectionism is successfully treated.

Perfectionism And Comorbid Psychological Problems :

Psychological conditions that frequently occur comorbidly (simultaneously) with perfectionism include the following


social anxiety

– eating disorders


obsessive – compulsive disorder

Let’s look at each of these briefly in turn

1) Anxiety may be linked to perfectionism because one feels constantly under pressure to reach exacting standards which are often, in fact, unobtainable, thus dooming one to perceived ‘failure’.

2) Social anxiety may be linked to perfectionism because one is always nervous in social situations that one’s ‘performance’ may be less than perfect and that one will make a faux pas or show oneself up in some way

3) Eating disorders may be linked to perfectionism if one is obsessed with gaining the ‘perfect’ body as such an obsession can lead to the development of anorexia nervosa or bulimia.

4) Depression may be linked to perfectionism because if one sets impossibly high standards for oneself one is likely to be constantly oppressed by a subjective sense of ‘failure’ and of ‘not being good enough.’

5) Obsessivecompulsive disorder may be linked to perfectionism. For example, one may be obsessed with ‘perfect’ household cleanliness and therefore feel compelled to spend extreme and excessive amounts of time cleaning and re-cleaning it to the point that it seriously diminishes one’s quality of life.



Perfectionism Linked To Having Inflexible, Authoritarian Parents

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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About David Hosier MSc

Holder of MSc and post graduate teaching diploma in psychology. Highly experienced in education. Founder of Survivor of severe childhood trauma.

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