When you deal with perfectionism in your daily life, it can quickly become a barrier to your productivity and overall mental health. The underlying psychology of perfectionism can provide significant insight into how perfectionism comes about, the different types of perfectionism, and what you can do to work through your struggles with it.

Where Perfectionism Comes From

Perfectionism is a learned personality trait and typically begins to develop during childhood. A number of events can lead to a child developing perfectionist characteristics, but the most common contributing factor is the expectations your parents put upon you.

If your parents held you to exceptionally high or unrealistic standards, perfectionism becomes the rule. For example, if your parents expected you to always get straight A grades in school and were disappointed or punitive anytime you got a B, you likely learned that being perfect was the only option.

Once perfectionism sets in, it can be incredibly difficult to break free from. The patterns you learn in childhood can follow you through your entire adult life if you don’t address or intervene with the lessons you learned when you were a child.

Perfectionism can quickly become tiring. It often leads to experiences such as:

  • Success not feeling rewarding
  • Simple mistakes feeling devastating
  • Difficulty giving yourself a break when mistakes happen
  • Procrastinating on projects you can’t do perfectly

This can have a range of consequences for how people feel about work, success, achievement, and even their sense of personal worth. But to truly understand perfectionism and its consequences, it’s first important to look at how perfectionism is defined in psychology.

The Two-Factor Model of Perfectionism

Personality psychologists have developed a two-factor model of perfectionism that describes how and why people feel the impact of perfectionism on their lives. The two factors of perfectionism are known as:

  1. Personal Standards Perfectionism (PSP)
  2. Evaluative Concerns Perfectionism (ECP)

Using these two factors, researchers were able to map study participants into a 2×2 grid with four perfectionism subtypes, with each group being high or low in either PSP or ECP.

Personal Standards Perfectionism

PSP is a sense of perfectionism you desire for yourself alone and has little to do with the expectations of others.

People high in PSP typically feel rewarded for personal success, since it is their own standards they are meeting. They are successful in school or work because they set positive goals for themselves and typically have an easier time learning from their mistakes.

What’s important to recognize with PSP is it is typically considered adaptive. Not all perfectionism is bad, and the goal of wanting to constantly improve yourself or your work can lead you on a path to constant self-improvement.

Evaluative Concerns Perfectionism

In contrast, ECP is perfectionism for the sake of others. People high in ECP are highly attuned to the standards other people set for them and are primarily concerned with how others perceive their work.

Since the focus of control for ECP is external — meaning you rate your perfectionism against an outside set of standards — people high in ECP often don’t feel a sense of personal accomplishment when they meet perfectionist standards. They only feel as though they have fulfilled a requirement rather than achieved success.

However, failing to meet perfectionist standards is often associated with many negative connotations. People may feel like a failure, fear punishment or repercussions, or simply be disappointed in their quality of work.

This imbalance is what often leads to many of the challenges associated with perfectionism, and researchers have found that people with ECP and low PSP are the group who struggle with perfectionism the most.

ECP and Distraction

When your sense of perfectionism is tied to external standards, it can create a perfect storm of circumstances leading to functional impairment. Since perfection isn’t rewarded, punishment or a sense of failure is assumed if your task isn’t perfect, which quickly becomes a no-win scenario.

This leads to an experience where people with high ECP will simply distract themselves or procrastinate on their tasks to avoid a negative outcome. Failing to meet the standards ends poorly, and even completing a task up to external standards requires significant work and effort with no reward felt for a job well done.

Distraction and procrastination provide a simpler path for people to follow. If you simply don’t put in the effort, you’ve avoided the responsibility of achieving perfection. This tracks back all the way to childhood when nothing you could do was ever good enough for parents who had unrealistic expectations or standards.

Two Paths to Working Through Perfectionism

People who feel like they need to work through their perfectionism typically fall into the group with high concern about evaluation from others but low personal standards for themselves. As such, there are two clear paths for helping people to work through and overcome their perfectionism — but both are not necessarily equal.

Care Less About Others

The first path is likely one that you’ve already heard before. It’s the standard advice for people who struggle with perfectionism — who cares about what other people think? Just do your best, and if they don’t like it, that’s their problem.

Essentially, this advice amounts to shifting the level of ECP lower. If you can move toward a place where you are less concerned about being evaluated or judged, the problem of perfectionism does start to subside.

People who can successfully start worrying less about other people’s standards have been shown to have increased performance.

The problem with this approach is that it’s incredibly difficult to do. Learning to stop caring about others’ standards is a process of undoing potentially decades of learned behavior and may not always lead to the outcome you want.

After all, if you stop caring about your boss’s standards and turn in subpar work, it could potentially lead to consequences in the workplace.

Care More for Yourself

The alternative path is to build a set of personal standards for yourself that you can achieve and feel good about. By creating a personal rubric of success, rather than relying entirely on the expectations or evaluations of others, you can restore the feeling of reward for accomplishing tasks and meeting your goals.

If you’re in college, for example, and your parents wouldn’t be satisfied with anything other than straight A grades, ask yourself what you would be happy with. Would you be satisfied with a B or two? Would you feel happy so long as you graduate on time?

Defining your goals for yourself gives you something to be proud of, even if others have unrealistic expectations.

Research has shown that people with high PSP and high ECP are the most productive and the fastest to improve with multiple tasks.

You may still face challenges with outside expectations, but holding yourself to your own standards can restore the drive and motivation to get your work done on time, continue improving, and achieve your own goals.

The Connection Between Depression, Anxiety, and Perfectionism

Perfectionism has been linked to both anxiety and depression disorders. While not necessarily causal, the challenges people face due to perfectionism can often lead to experiences of anxiety, a lowered sense of self-worth, and countless other factors that can ultimately contribute to the development of a mental health condition.

For this reason, many people who are currently living with a depression or anxiety diagnosis feel the pressures of perfectionism in their daily lives.

However, working on perfectionism alone typically isn’t enough to bring about holistic mental health recovery. They may require professional mental health interventions designed to treat the underlying condition.

If this best describes your current state, there are several treatment options available to you that can help with both perfectionism and depression or anxiety disorders.

When Overcoming Perfectionism Is Too Much to Take on Alone

If perfectionism is starting to cause serious consequences in your daily life, the best path to recovery is finding a treatment center that can provide evidence-based services to help you move past this difficult challenge. At Plus by APN, our team uses many tools and techniques to help people overcome perfectionism.

Individual Therapy

Working one-on-one with a therapist is perhaps the most effective way of overcoming perfectionism, as well as working through any co-occurring mental health conditions you may have.

An individual therapy session provides the most depth of any treatment intervention, allowing you to dive into the causes and conditions that led to your perfectionism, as well as providing strategies to work your way out.

At Plus by APN, our team offers both in-person and virtual therapy options to fit your unique preferences and needs.

Psychiatry and Medication Management

If anxiety or depression is contributing significantly to your distress with perfectionism, psychiatry and medication management can be another effective solution. In traditional psychiatry, targeted medications are used to treat depression or anxiety disorders. These medications have been found to be effective for decades and provide a simple path forward to recovery.

Medication management takes psychiatry a step further, allowing our clients to spend extra time with their psychiatrist trying new medications, adjusting the dosage, or changing the timing of medications to provide the best effects.

This can also help if you experience any uncomfortable side effects from your medication or have questions about the treatment process during treatment.

Neurofeedback and qEEG

Neurofeedback and qEEG (quantitative electroencephalogram) brain mapping is an innovative approach used at Plus by APN to help people overcome cognitive challenges.

This treatment provides a detailed process to visualize your brain and brain waves in real time, which can help you control your brain’s state in moments of distress.

Neurofeedback is completely non-invasive and only requires you to wear a specialized cap during the treatment process. The qEEG technology helps you understand your brain’s state, how different events can trigger changes in your brain state, and how you can exert control to find more focus, relieve stress, and move past perfectionism.

Start Treatment at Plus by APN

The team at Plus by APN believes no stone should be left unturned on the path to mental health recovery. That’s why our program combines the best in traditional mental health treatment methods with innovative and cutting-edge technologies to help you achieve recovery.

Our team can help you determine what type of treatment is right for you. To get started with Plus by APN, reach out to our team directly by calling 424.644.6486, using the live chat function on our website, or filling out our confidential online contact form for a no-obligation consultation.


  • Barke, Antonia, et al. “To Err Is (Perfectly) Human: Behavioural and Neural Correlates of Error Processing and Perfectionism.” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, vol. 12, no. 10, 2017, pp. 1647-1657, https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsx082. Accessed 14 Apr. 2024.
  • Gaudreau, Patrick, and Amanda Thompson. “Testing a 2 × 2 Model of Dispositional Perfectionism.” Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 48, no. 5, 2010, pp. 532-537, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2009.11.031. Accessed 14 Apr. 2024.
  • Wheeler, Heather & Blankstein, Kirk & Antony, Martin & McCabe, Randi & Bieling, Peter. (2011). Perfectionism in Anxiety and Depression: Comparisons across Disorders, Relations with Symptom Severity, and Role of Comorbidity. International Journal of Cognitive Therapy. 4. 10.1521/ijct.2011.4.1.66.