10 Signs That You’re a Perfectionist and 10 Things You Can Do About It

Photo from Jaroslaw Pocztarski, Flickr, CC
Photo from Jaroslaw Pocztarski, Flickr, CC

The Signs   

1. You remember every mistake you ever made–even the time you threw the chair in kindergarten because you already knew that A is for Apple and you didn’t know why they didn’t seem to realize that A is actually for Ardent Avaricious Alligator.

2. You won lots of awards as a teenager for your ___ abilities. (fill in the blank: musical? debate? academic? athletic? other?) But you never felt satisfied because you knew how much better you could be.

3. You have trouble completing projects because they won’t turn out how you envision them and then you’ll be terribly disappointed in yourself and your suspicions of impostor-ism will be confirmed. You’ll have to move to a foreign country and join a cult.

4. When you do accomplish something, you raise the bar before you can appreciate what you’ve done. And you’re getting a little too old for the high jump.

5. You procrastinate until the very last minute on most things because you’re terrified of failure and you’re convinced that failure is likely because you really aren’t very smart. So you’ll have to move to a foreign country and join a cult.

6. You procrastinate until the very last minute on most things because if your work isn’t great, you have an excuse. You can say, “Heh. I’m a busy person. I don’t have time for such trivial pettinesses.” But what you’re thinking is, “OMG, I am a total failure now and for all time.”

7. You have to be the best, the smartest, the fastest and the right-est. All the time.

8. In five years you’ve painted your living room twelve times and the color still isn’t right.

9. Either you color code your clothes, alphabetize your books and need to control your visual environment or you live in clutter-town.

10. You don’t think that any of these signs are very funny.


What You Can Do About It

1. Make this your mantra: My worth as a human is not dependent on how much I achieve.

2. Distinguish between healthy perfectionism that looks like very high standards and aims for beauty, balance, justice, harmony and precision and unhealthy perfectionism that looks like anxiety, paralysis and worthlessness when faced with a task where you’re not guaranteed success. The former, you learn to love; the latter, you work to heal.

3. Make this your mantra: I learn more from failures than I do from successes. My failures will make a much more fascinating memoir.

4. Read Dweck’s book Mindset and practice having a growth mindset where you recognize that your intelligence isn’t fixed. Struggling with a problem and having to practice something to learn it builds brain cells.

5. Read Burka and Yuen’s book Procrastination for an in-depth explanation and for in-depth solutions.

6. Make this your mantra: A mistake is not the same as a failure.

7. Build a relationship with your inner perfectionist. Dialogue with him/her in your journal. Find out what s/he needs to feel safe and understood.

8. Find something fun that you can do that’s more about the process than the product.

9. If you’re a parent, make it a family project to try doing activities that challenge you. Have everyone in the family choose something they want to do but avoid because they suspect they’ll feel incompetent.  Do the activities and then talk about what it was like. Appreciate the courage it took to look unskilled, inadequate and clumsy.

10. If your unhealthy perfectionism is so entrenched that these ideas aren’t helping, find a good therapist. If you’ve grown up in a seriously dysfunctional household, you may have felt pressure to be perfect as a way to get your parents’ attention and love. Those patterns can continue into adulthood and keep you from finding your true Self and your authentic voice.


To my bloggEEs: Looks like you’re starting to interact more and benefit from each others’ comments. Thank you for all of your thoughtful sharing and support. Tell us how perfectionism has been a part of your life and what you do to work with it. Let us know if you’ve found any helpful resources. For a  detailed description of perfectionism, see this wonderful article by Linda Silverman of the Gifted Development Center.

This post is part of a blog hop with Gifted Homeschoolers Forum. Click on this link to read many wonderful posts on perfectionism written by parents of gifted children and professionals.


Author: Paula Prober

I’m a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice based in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in international consulting with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I’ve been a teacher and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a frequent guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I’ve written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, Advanced Development Journal and online for psychotherapy dot net, Rebelle Society, Thrive, Introvert Dear, and Highly Sensitive Refuge. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, is a collection of case studies of gifted clients along with many strategies and resources for gifted adults and teens. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists is a collection of my most popular blog posts along with writing exercises for self-exploration and insight.

46 responses to “10 Signs That You’re a Perfectionist and 10 Things You Can Do About It”

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    […] achievements were what made you worthy, what made you lovable. You may have concluded that anything less than perfect was a failure and failure meant that you were not such a smart person after […]

  4. Elena Avatar

    I am a gifted student, and found out four years ago, and I still struggle with all these things. Thank you for this blog; I am almost in tears reading every post because finally SOMEONE UNDERSTANDS. Thank you so much!!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      You’re welcome, Elena. I’m so happy you’re here!

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    […] You’re terrified of failure and have exceedingly high standards so you avoid taking risks and you procrastinate. Gifted people […]

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  7. Miranda Avatar

    lol I’m a perfectionist, sadly not the kind that’s good, and I’ve been reading about ways to get rid of it because I will always spend way too much time on something just so it will look right to me, I just feel like I have to! I hate it so much.

    A while ago I began to question my actions and wonder if I had something wrong with me. It’s funny because one of the weird things I did (and enjoyed to do) was alphabetize my bookshelf.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Hi Miranda. Hopefully some of the ideas in the post will help. Thanks for your comment.

  8. thecardinalhouse Avatar

    “Distinguish between healthy perfectionism that looks like very high standards and aims for beauty, balance, justice, harmony and precision and unhealthy perfectionism that looks like anxiety, paralysis and worthlessness when faced with a task where you’re not guaranteed success. The former, you learn to love; the latter, you work to heal.” YES!

  9. The Perfect Quirky GHF blog wheel | Sprite's Site

  10. jofreitag Avatar

    Always enjoy your wisdom and humour Paula!
    Kind regards
    Jo, Sprite, Retweet and the White Poodle

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks Jo!

  11. miki Avatar

    ” …makes me vulnerable to people who may not be more accurate or complete in their perceptions but are, nonetheless, more convinced that they are right.” So, so right 🙂
    This is a big issue … still struggle with it.
    Waiting for a post on this Paula.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I’ve got it on the list, miki. Thanks!

  12. holbart Avatar

    Thank you for this piece. I also really enjoyed Silverman’s article. It is definitely worth reading, and then reading again. I really appreciated that she moved toward nuancing our understanding, especially around neuroticism vs. conscientiousness as distinct underpinning for perfectionism. It’s a helpful read. Thank you!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I’m glad the Silverman article was helpful. Linda has worked in the field of gifted education/psychology for years and is a great resource.

      1. holbart Avatar

        Silverman’s list of gifted personality characteristics was the first resource that landed for me internally on my journey of recovering my true self. I was trying to remember what first moved me to start researching the subject in the first place, and I have to laugh. . . I started researching giftedness as a possible variable because I was perceiving my therapist as not being nuanced enough in how he was making attributions about difficulties I was having with my boss. LOL He was attributing the problem to the fact that I just had a lot more education and training than my boss, yet my gut was telling me that that was not an adequate explanation for the kinds of issues my boss and I were having. I also knew a little bit about gender bias, and I just wasn’t completely swallowing the external attribution. That whole needing complexity thing. . .

        I spent years doubting and denying my giftedness while alternately defending it when my therapist would not tell the whole truth. To this day, one source of disillusionment for me is just how much we humans so often gerrymander reality and equate our finite, limited perceptions of reality as unbiased fact. Drives me crazy. It makes it difficult to feel confident in my perceptions or motives, which makes me vulnerable to people who may not be more accurate or complete in their perceptions but are, nonetheless, more convinced that they are right. I have to grow in confidence because it is the only way to protect the gifts God has given me so that I can use them for the greater good. Getting to a more confident state, however, sucks.

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          “…makes me vulnerable to people who may not be more accurate or complete in their perceptions but are, nonetheless, more convinced that they are right.” I’m sure you have a lot of readers nodding their heads at this one. Holbart, your comments always add a depth and richness to this blog. (and give me ideas for new posts!) Thank you.

          1. Ro Avatar

            Yes, that particular part brought a smile to my face Holbart. I loved your article Paula, as well as reading through all the comments. Wish I could ‘like’ comments, but I can’t because I’ve no account. Liking them in my head instead (the old fashioned way) 🙂

            1. Paula Prober Avatar
              Paula Prober

              I know, we’ve got some great commenters, including you, Ro!

  13. Nicole Linn Avatar
    Nicole Linn

    Paula, thanks for making me laugh while encouraging me to take a look at my perfectionistic health. I couldn’t live without the big P, but sometimes veer off into the ugly side of it. Your words help me stay on the right track. 🙂

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks for visiting, Nicole!

  14. Cait Fitz @ My Little Poppies Avatar
    Cait Fitz @ My Little Poppies

    Love this post, Paula. Your posts are always kind and full of great advice!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, Caitie!

  15. KtCallsita Avatar

    Can I have this as a poster to put by my desk? I’ve never really correlated my procrastination to perfectionism, but it makes so much sense. Since I’m procrastinating now on multiple things I will keep this short, but I wanted to say thank you, as always!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Oh yes. Procrastination is very often connected to perfectionism, at least in my experience. Good job getting back to your multiple things! I appreciate hearing from you.

  16. Nimue Brown Avatar
    Nimue Brown

    Really helping me make sense of my son at the moment. Thank you. 3 different kinds of perfectionism going on in this household, and we all need to figure out how to be more okay with ourselves.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, I hope this helps you all feel more okay. Thanks for writing.

  17. Romy Avatar

    Great read. You got me there with the move to another country, I went as far as possible. However, it helped, I’m strange and outlandish here anyway, hence I don’t need to fit so much. Still struggling with the procrastination part a lot, but getting better. See myself now more as a time optimist. 🙂

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Ah. I like that. “time optimist” Ha!

  18. Antarmukhi Avatar

    Wonderful article! I realise I am getting too old to keep raising the bar now.. It’s becoming discouraging now as I am learning more & more complex things. It’s no longer as easy as it has been, more readings are needed which threaten my sense of intellect. I have learnt through my struggles that it’s a disservice I am doing to myself, not enjoying the journey of learning. Now I say to myself “I have high standards, I do like that & most of the time I can reach them, though I am learning to sometimes be ok with good enough”. I do realise my good enough can be someone’s else very good!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, important to know that it’s very likely that your “good enough” is someone else’s excellent. Often rainforest-minded people measure themselves by very different standards. Yes, enjoy the journey whenever you can! Nice to hear from you, Antarmukhi.

  19. Stickybeaker Avatar

    This post made me laugh (ardent avaricious alligator? pfft clearly aardvark would be a better choice) then cry (#4) .
    Thanks for your insight, I feel less alone.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes! You are not alone.

  20. Sarah Avatar

    Those describe exactly what I feel!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks for the comment, Sarah.

  21. CA Avatar

    Actually Paula it is! It is dependent on how much I achieve that’s kinda the whole point. But I love how you knew that colour is so important and yes I do feel like I need to be perfect at everything and yes it was way hard when you feel like you are an aging wunderkind …that plays in my head so yes it is dependent .
    Love hearing from you though as per usual 🙂


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, Cheryl. I love hearing from you, too.

  22. Wenda Sheard Avatar
    Wenda Sheard

    Paula, I love how you speak directly and kindly to us readers. Thank you for your wise advice.

    One random bit of caution: Before I quote Dweck again in my writings, I need to examine the merits of some arguments I’ve been seeing recently against her work and its interpretation.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, Wenda. I know that her work gets mixed reviews, especially in the gifted community. I think it depends on how what she says is interpreted. I do have mixed feelings about some of what I read because one interpretation might be that she’s arguing that giftedness per se doesn’t exist, or something like that. But I think it’s possible to look at her work and still appreciate the concept that gifted folks will experience less stress/anxiety if they can have a growth mindset. If you have links to those arguments, I’d love to see them. My email is paula at rainforestmind dot com. I appreciate your “bit of caution.”

    2. Cait Fitz @ My Little Poppies Avatar
      Cait Fitz @ My Little Poppies

      Please let me know what you find out, Wenda. This is on my to-do list as well!

  23. Alessa- Everyday Learning Avatar
    Alessa- Everyday Learning

    I think you’re right, the lack of humor in looking at one’s self is definitely a sign of perfectionism gone awry.

  24. Marlies V. Sint Annaland Avatar
    Marlies V. Sint Annaland

    Hello Paula. for a while now I am checking my mail thinking, would Paula have a new blog? every time there is a new one, it is like a lovely present. This article made me laugh out loud. Your humor is fantastic. I wish though I would have read this before puberty hit … and that was about 30+ years ago!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks for your feedback, Marlies. It’s important to me to inject humor when I can.

  25. Gail Post, Ph.D. Avatar
    Gail Post, Ph.D.

    Paula, Great examples and great advice!

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