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The Emotional Difficulties Created by Perfectionistic Parents

Dysfunctional families come in many styles and can even often be broken down into two or more types of dysfunction when there are two parents. In my previous blogs I have addressed two other styles, what I call the Pooh Pooh’s or invalidating style and the Theater People or histrionic and chaotic style. Today’s style is the perfectionistic parent, or what I call “the Never Good Enoughs”.

I am not referring here to parents who just want their children to be successful and push them into many enrichment activities. I am talking about the type who do it in a mean or bullying fashion, hurting their children more than they are helping. Their children’s emotional world becomes full of self doubt and self hatred when they feel they cannot perform as expected.

Perfectionist parents (and spouses) are anxious and typically insecure. They may be overly involved in status and keeping up with the neighbors so as to not be judged negatively. They tend to be overly critical, judgmental, and possess excessive expectations. These expectations may be spoken about directly or simply understood through non-verbal displays, such as ignoring a child when performance isn’t up to standards.

These parents tend to believe that the things they say are motivating to a child but in actuality, their words, actions and expectations are destructive to the child’s self-esteem. Often perfectionistic parents have been raised this way themselves. They strive to prove to the outside world that they have it all going on, when emotionally they tend to be bankrupt. Money, success and status may be the manifestation of this need or great displays of talent or athleticism carried out by the child. The child’s good grades and academic or scientific achievement may also be the outlet.

This is not to say that everyone whose parents pushed them to be successful was raised in a dysfunctional environment, there are many positive ways to achieve as well.

Think about negative parents, the ones who made their children feel like they were never enough, their performance was never enough, and there was never enough success. These parents may be workaholics themselves or it may be one parent who is frustrated with their station in life and is living vicariously through the child. They may also even withhold love based on performance.

Comments typical in these homes include:

That “A” is good, but why wasn’t it an “A+”?

I’m glad you scored a touchdown. Too bad it wasn’t the winning one.

Your brother got an “A+”.

It was nice that you are in the school play but why didn’t you get picked for the lead?

Any success is diminished if it is not the number one performance. Sadly, these words and attitudes can remain with you throughout life, becoming incorporated into your identity, your belief system and therefore affecting how you go about your own life.  These are the items lurking in your mind that need to be revisited and challenged. Once that takes place you are free to design your own life free of the fear of failure or ongoing embarrassment.

Below are some examples of the potential personal difficulties experienced by adult children of perfectionistic parents:

  1. Abusive relationships
  2. Anxiety and Anxiety Spectrum Disorders
  3. Become controlling yourself
  4. Become workaholic yourself
  5. Codependency/Caretaking behaviors
  6. Depression/anxiety cycle
  7. Lack of joy/pessimistic view of life in general
  8. Learned Helplessness
  9. Locus of Control problems
  10. May not set boundaries
  11. May underachieve in academic as well as career setting
  12.  No goal setting – why bother?
  13.  Poor coping strategies
  14. Poor parenting skills, due to a lack of confidence
  15. Relationship problems
  16. Trust issues

This is by no means an exhaustive list and it is possible to suffer a number of the difficulties at the same time. What a terrible way to live due to having been given destructive information about yourself!

You may think you have so many problems that you can never feel good again, but often those problems all boil down to one source and that source is not that there is something organically wrong with your brain, just that you have incorporated faulty information into your self appraisal. No matter how old you are it is not too late to revisit those beliefs, eliminate them and start making the rest of your life be the best of your life as the saying goes.

A professional can help you with this process using cognitive behavioral techniques or you can try with self help books or programs. Just understanding where the problems came from can help you feel better immediately instead of beating yourself up constantly. We are not blaming your parents or upbringing for bad decisions that you may have made but it helps to see what thought base you were using when you made those life decisions.

A new thought base brings about new decisions. 

If you feel that this type of dysfunction may be affecting your life today, please visit us at Psychskills and get the free resource “How to Break Free from 12 Dysfunctional Thought Patterns … and a handy chart to help you track your progress”.

To learn more about how dysfunctional patterns arise, how they affect you and how to recover from them, see and the book, Dysfunction Interrupted-How to Quickly Overcome Depression, Anxiety and Anger Starting Now.

Feel Good For Life!!

The Emotional Difficulties Created by Perfectionistic Parents

Audrey Sherman, Ph.D.

Dr. Audrey Sherman is a licensed psychologist, coach and the author of the book Dysfunction Interrupted-How to Quickly Overcome Depression, Anxiety and Anger Starting Now. Her expertise is in defining, describing and transforming dysfunctional behavior and thought patterns learned in childhood or beyond that keep you anxious, depressed, angry, stuck in unhappy and unproductive relationships, jobs and more. Dr. Sherman developed the Dysfunctional Patterns Quiz and other free resources to help you determine the effects of these on your life. She works with individuals, conducts live and online workshops and trains others in her programs. To learn more about Dr. Sherman, you can visit her website.

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APA Reference
Sherman, A. (2017). The Emotional Difficulties Created by Perfectionistic Parents. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 11, 2020, from


Last updated: 30 Mar 2017
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.