13 Comments to
The Origins of Perfectionism—and 4 Tips to Manage It

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  1. Great article I cried because that was me all of it. I have all those problems and have been suffering. The article helps me to understand where being afraid to make mistake and self hate were coming from from. Thank you for this helpful article

  2. “Perfectionistic tendencies are almost always a consequence of a dysfunctional childhood environment, and the individual was overly controlled and likely abused in other ways in this environment.” You are so completely off the mark with this assumption. I believe it is most likely an inborn, inheritable trait. My mom has it, both my sister and I struggle with it, and now my son does. My sister and I had a loving, supportive family that did not place unattainable demands on us, and now as a parent I am helping my son become whoever he is suited to be. Your book definition is just plain wrong.

  3. I had this awful upbringing as mentioned above, having a parent who was/still is a narcissist, my father, although he messed up my mother so much, she was terrified as was my sister, that it was divide and conquer, and he drove my mother to treat me as an inferior child, where everything was as described in the article, nothing was ever good enough, and I lived by their perfectionist mundane rules, if you put a foot out of place, you were shamed. An horrendous and painful childhood.
    Now I’ve fought for years to rid myself of their toxic ways, but alas I now see a society riddled with narcissists and a culture based on perfectionism. Look at the TV and adverts, everything is based on being perfect or being some high-flyer, where most of these things are unattainable to most people, they are made to feel inadequate and lacking, because our culture is almost warped and twisted, and it is difficult to avoid this nonsense, unless you become a hermit or live on a desert island.
    I have learned to accept that mistakes are human, but alas, our culture is sadly indifferent to people making little mistakes, especially if they think you are not strong or look tough, they’ll bully you or intimidate you to make you feel shame and inferior, just like my parents did. That’s why I’ve become anti-social, not in a criminal way, but to avoid meeting people that are narcissists, because they’re everywhere nowadays, it’s hard to avoid them, so I’ll be a loner and look after number one and only put in caring for those I trust the most, and to hell with the rest!

    • now that makes two of us, thank you for putting it so well in words❤❤❤❤❤

      • It’s difficult to put into words, but thanks for understanding and to know that I’m not alone and there are others like you, who’ve endured the same anguish! xx

    • I’m running into a lot more narcissists also. My father is a narcissist and I realized it many, many years ago before the term was ever really used. I guess I had good insight at an early age. I am very careful at work not to make mistakes and rarely do but I am always in some hot water through no fault of my own. I find them all, narcissistic, toxic, bossy people that seem to be threatened or just have it out for me. I keep to myself now. Everyone seems busy either with family or running somewhere more important than what I would like to do. I am sick of it. I am so alone. No one seems to know how to be a friend anymore.

  4. I totally agree that perfectionism grows in a dysfunctional family and that you have good advice for addressing it. Some perfectionists may have your experience. Others may have parents who are perfectionists and who are hardest on themselves. This model also breeds perfectionism. Perfectionists may have felt loved but also are following the model no matter how much their parents loved them unconditionally

  5. I didn’t know that someone had written my biography. I try to explain my perfectionism to people. However, there is no perfect definition of perfectionism. See? There I go again. I will just have them read this. I will also try to make some stupid mistake today and accept it. It has taken me 70 years in constant battle with perfectionism.

    • That’s a long journey, and practicing making mistakes and accepting it sounds like a good start, Liz!

      All the best,

  6. OK, I can kind of see where the author is going with this, comma, when it comes to stuff like learning machining, there’s right, so within +- .05 in, and there’s out of tolerance. Some applications require even tighter tolerances. Is it perfectionism? No, not so much, but it could be the difference between a 30,000 mile engine, and a 100,000 mile engine, and with trucks, you’re talking sometimes a half a million miles between engine changes. Those bearings need to be ON, ‘dead nuts’, within spec, or eventually there’s going to be the problem of what happens when oil film can’t keep the crankshaft centered anymore, and accelerated engine wear after that.

    Not everyone’s going to be an engine builder, not everyone’s cut out for tight tolerance work, and that’s why there’s a lot of automated computerized machinery doing that kind of drilling and stuff, because computers can be very very consistent, and people make mistakes.

    Mercedes-Benz and other manufacturers have a strong reputation for quality. This is no accident. Their manufacturing and assembly processes, quality control, inspection and approval processes, are top-notch. For a $60,000 car, they have to be, because their customers have come to expect no less from a name like Mercedes. Every vehicle pretty much has to be perfect, no exceptions, no ‘monday cars’, or stuff like that. No one shelling out the cash like that wants doors that don’t fit, starters that work most of the time, or axles that won’t track on the highway. They want quality. You achieve quality, by having uncompromising standards.

    Are most of us ever going to get a job working at Mercedes in the manufacturing environment? Only if your grades back up your resume. If you’re not a fairly focused, quality-minded person, they won’t be putting you on the production floor.

    Is any Mercedes ‘perfect’? Well, probably not, not if you got out the lasers and did micron measurement, but they are perfect such that the average person can’t tell that the door is just the tiniest bit tighter at the top or at the bottom, because 20 people have already looked at it and made note of any visible variances.

    Aviation also basically requires near-perfectionism, because if it’s not right, someone could die. No ‘B’ students on the flight line, thank you, because there’s just too much riding on the quality standards involved, not just in manufacturing but also the upkeep. Compensating for human error is a ‘thing’, in various industries. People are people, people make mistakes, people get tired, forgetful, excited, otherwise emotional, and the mind drifts off-track. This is where computers can be very helpful in terms of reaching certain goals. And, in the context of work, where a paycheck is involved, this is all good and fine. Demanding that your kid bring their room to aerospace tolerances in terms off workspace organization, cleanliness, and furniture alignment, means you need to point your analytical mind in another direction, and let your kid be a kid. And, if you’re blessed to work in a professional field where things don’t have to be all +-.005″, then you will ultimately probably be happier for it, and less likely to suffer from eyestrain or hypertension.

  7. This:
    “Perfectionistic tendencies are almost always a consequence of a dysfunctional childhood environment, and the individual was overly controlled and likely abused in other ways in this environment.”
    is exactly what happened to me. My mother was like a KGB agent. She’d spy on everything I did through her network of informants (the other mothers in the village). That might seem a normal part of ‘looking out for your child’ but she went beyond that. She could not resist telling me every day that knew what I’d ‘been up to’. Henious things like riding my bike past the end of the street. Walking through the churchyard without touching anything. These and other harmless things were recriminated in my face in regular denouncement sessions. Yet when I’d get trouble off other kids (as is normal) her information superhighway mysteriously dried up. She’d heard nothing. Yet she always started with the presumption of my guilt. Screaming at me calling me a liar when I told her the truth. Trying to break down my psyche just like a KGB interrogator. Couple this with her almost psychotic PMT and you begin to see where the ‘abuse’ part came in.
    “being authentic and genuine was both prohibited and punishable.” Absolutely spot on.
    Now, when I face any criticism in the adult world, even stuff which is trivial and normal people can resolve in minutes, I go into flght or flight mode like a cornered animal.

    How do you unlearn this stuff?

    • It’s definitely not an easy task. Because it developed over years, even decades, it can be unlearned quickly or easily. Otherwise you—and many others—would have done it already and articles like that wouldn’t be necessary.

      So the first step is awareness and acceptance that it’s not a quick, simple, pleasant process. And it’s up to you how you want to approach it. There are tools that can make the process easier (my article on that). There’s also a more practical guide (link). If you need personal help, you can always send me an inquiry for consulting/coaching and if I’m available I’d gladly work with you.

      So, you have options, and many of them are compatible with each other.

      I hope that helps!


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