What Lies Behind a Perfectionist?

You can be a perfectionist with yourself as well as with others. On the other hand, you might not even be a perfectionist, but still have the belief that, compared to the rest, you should do better.
What Lies Behind a Perfectionist?

Last update: 10 February, 2023

It’s impossible to make everything perfect. By definition, it’s an unattainable act. That’s because there’s always room for improvement. For example, you can work more, learn more, be more punctual, get in shape …the list goes on. But achieving perfection is an impossible dream and being obsessed with it is extremely painful. But what lies behind a perfectionist?

For Jeffrey Young, the search for perfection is explained by the unattainable goals we pursue. Unattainable goals are beliefs we hold that we must try harder to meet ever-increasing internal performance standards. On many occasions, this is done to avoid criticism from others as well as from our own self-criticism.

perfectionist woman
Perfectionists tend to set extremely high goals for themselves, in addition to evaluating themselves really critically and worrying a lot about their mistakes.

Unattainable goals

Perfectionists’ goals aren’t attainable. They tend to stay at the same distance from them or further away, even when it’s clear that the individual has moved forward.

As a rule, this produces feelings of pressure or a sensation of difficulty in slowing down, as well as hypercriticism toward others and themselves. Consequently, their ability to relax and experience pleasure decreases. This affects their health and self-esteem. Unattainable goals are often presented as:

  • Perfectionism. Excessive attention to detail or underestimation of their own abilities.
  • Rigid rules or ‘shoulds’. These occur in many areas of their lives and include unrealistically high moral, cultural, and ethical precepts.
  • Concern for timeliness, efficiency, and the constant need to achieve more.

“Perfectionism comes in levels and degrees and varies in intensity. It’s not something you either have or don’t have, but is experienced by everyone.”



People with healthy perfectionism have the ability to bounce back when they fail. They accept their limitations both when they come from themselves and from their environment. Positive perfectionism can act as an engine that activates us and encourages us to achieve our goals in various areas, such as sports, music, work, or school. This is the fundamental difference from pathological perfectionism.

On the other hand, people characterized by maladaptive perfectionism suffer. Important areas of their lives, such as their relationships, work, interpersonal, or academic performance deteriorate because they fail to meet the high expectations they set for themselves.

Self-criticism is a fundamental component of the anatomy of a perfectionist. It involves a pathological fear of failure. It’s due to the perfectionist’s meticulous self-evaluation and self-control of their own performance. They either see themselves as failing to achieve their goals or achieving them yet belittling them. This confirms their negative self-evaluation and drives them to create new standards that are even more demanding.

Perfectionism is a problem when its presence generates feelings of unhappiness and interferes with the functioning of the individual.”


Self-oriented perfectionists

Self-oriented perfectionism (SOP) encompasses perfectionist behaviors that have their origin and destination in the individual. They constitute both the demands of being a perfectionist and the expectation of achieving perfection in relation to what they demand of themselves.

People with high SOP tend to evaluate themselves in an extreme way. They focus on their flaws and shortcomings while generating expectations that are far from being real.

SOP has been associated with clinical entities that involve self-concept. For example, depression and eating disorders.

Other-oriented perfectionists

Other-Oriented Perfectionism (OOP) refers to the demands we make on those around us. We might assume that there are certain ‘perfect’ people in our environment who make important and rigorous assessments of others.

OOP isn’t linked to clinical disorders, but it can generate dissatisfaction and difficulties when relating to people who we consider to be perfect.

Couple arguing in the street
According to Hewitt, it’s possible for people high in other-oriented perfectionism to experience interpersonal problems and even the loss of important relationships.

Socially prescribed perfectionists

Socially prescribed perfectionism (SPP) encompasses interpersonal dimensions. Demands for perfection come from others and are directed at the individual. SPP implies harboring the belief that we’re incapable when it comes to achieving what others demand of us. When this happens, concerns about a lack of perfection can arise.

In conclusion, we can say that any kind of extreme perfectionism can have a substantial impact on people’s health. In fact, it’s been related to various significant clinical entities (depression, GAD, and others).

For this reason, it’s useful to lower our expectations of being perfect in everything, for everyone, and at all times. We must adjust it to the reality of human nature. We need to remember that, as we’re biological beings, we sometimes fail, and failing is completely normal

“It seems that the concern to achieve and maintain the approval of others is more relevant in this dimension.”


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Arana, F. G., Galarregui, M. S., Miracco, M. C., Partarrieu, A. I., De Rosa, L., Lago, A. E., … & Keegan, E. (2014). Perfeccionismo y desempeño académico en estudiantes universitarios de la Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires. Acta Colombiana de Psicología, 17(1), 71-77.
  • Bagnoli, L., Chaves, M., & de Vera, N. C. (2017). Dimensiones del perfeccionismo y sintomatología depresiva en universitarios de psicología. Eureka (Asunción, En línea).

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.