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Depression and Perfectionism

When I had my postpartum depression and PMDD, I would be the last person on earth to claim perfectionism.  THE last.  Frequently disorganized, burning the candle at both ends, trying to juggle everything – bleah!  But with some distance from the experience, I can say personally that I have recognized and struggled with my perfectionism since then.  It is far better than it used to be, but mostly because I know it and can see it much more easily.

Depression would seem to be about the complete opposite of perfectionism.  Depression seeming dark and desperate, sometimes with excessive sleep or eating, below average self care, etc.  Perfectionism seeming to be about everything being super clean and always always in its place.  Let me reintroduce you to depression and perfectionism as a dangerous duo.

The stereotypical descriptions of depression and perfectionism do have some truth to them.  However, perfectionism can also show up in a less expected sort of way.  While some perfectionists give all their energy and effort to do it all “right”, some decide that if they can’t do it “right” then they just won’t do it at all.

You see, these two problems are closely related because they share one important attribute – black and white thinking.  There is only one standard of acceptability, and either it’s 100% right or it’s all wrong.  No in between.

People with depression tend to believe that most things are horribly wrong, and too far gone to ever be right.  Nothing gray is accepted as even partly right.  This blanket judgment creates piles and piles of bad things wherever the person looks.  This allows a debilitating despair to grow, something that hinders people with depression from taking even small steps to get better.

If it’s wrong, it’s all wrong, so why bother?  That’s how the perfectionism angle works with depression.  If this day is going to be as bad as the last day anyway, why bother looking nice or doing something fun.  It won’t matter because nothing can make a dent in how lousy life is.  Since there is no hope for getting it all right, the person doesn’t even attempt to get something positive.

Recognizing this perfectionism is so important for depression recovery.  My postpartum depression amplified a tendency in me and left behind some bad thinking and emotional habits.  They are under much better control, but it has taken awareness and years to do this.  I know I’ll just have to keep up with it as time marches on.  I do not want the tyranny of perfectionism to trickle down to my daughters!  Nobody needs that.  So here, I leave you with a promise of not being “prefect” and being happy about it.

Depression and Perfectionism

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP is a practicing licensed mental health counselor in Nebraska.

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APA Reference
Krull, E. (2009). Depression and Perfectionism. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 22 Sep 2009
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