Unraveling the Causes of Perfectionism: Why People Strive for Flawlessness

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Perfectionism, that relentless pursuit of the ideal, is a complex trait with a multifaceted origin story. It’s not simply a matter of wanting to do well; it’s a deeply ingrained pattern of thoughts and behaviours with roots that often reach back to childhood and are influenced by various factors. As we’ve explored in our comprehensive guide on perfectionism, understanding these root causes of perfectionism is crucial for managing and overcoming its challenges.

5 Causes of Perfectionismperfectly arranged triangles to depict causes of perfectionism

Let us now consider the different factors that contribute to the development of perfectionism. We’ll examine the interplay of genetics, upbringing, social pressures, and personal experiences that shape our beliefs about ourselves and the world around us.

By understanding the causes of perfectionism, we can gain valuable insights into why we strive for flawlessness and develop strategies for navigating its complexities


While genetics alone cannot fully explain perfectionism, Research suggests that there may be a genetic component to perfectionism. Studies have found that certain personality traits, such as conscientiousness and neuroticism, are more common in individuals with perfectionistic tendencies. These traits, partly influenced by our genes, can make us more prone to setting high standards, being detail-oriented, and experiencing anxiety about making mistakes.

However, genetics alone cannot fully explain perfectionism. It’s a complex trait influenced by various environmental and psychological factors, making the question of whether perfectionism is born or made a complex one with both nature (genetics) and nurture (environment) playing a role. Individuals may likely have a genetic predisposition to perfectionism. However, its manifestation and severity may be shaped by early childhood experiences and parenting styles.

Parenting Styles

Our early childhood experiences, particularly our relationships with parents and caregivers, can profoundly shape our beliefs about ourselves and our abilities. Overly critical or demanding parents can inadvertently foster perfectionism in their children. Growing up in an environment where mistakes are not tolerated, praise is contingent on achievement, and high expectations are constantly reinforced can cause children to develop perfectionistic tendencies. Children may internalize these expectations and conclude their worth depends on their performance and that any mistake is a sign of failure.

This doesn’t mean that every child raised in a high-achieving environment will become a perfectionist, nor that every perfectionist had a difficult childhood. However, understanding the potential impact of early experiences can shed light on the roots of perfectionism.

Social and Cultural Influences

Our social and cultural environment can also cause perfectionism. In many societies, success and achievement are highly valued, creating a pressure-cooker environment where individuals feel compelled to be perfect and avoid failure at all costs.

This pressure can be particularly intense in academic and professional settings, where competition is fierce and mistakes are often unacceptable. Social media, with its curated highlight reels, can exacerbate these pressures, leading to feelings of inadequacy and a desire to present a perfect image to the world.

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Personal Experiences and Trauma

In some cases, perfectionism can develop as a coping mechanism for dealing with difficult life experiences, such as trauma, bullying, or neglect. Childhood trauma can leave lasting emotional scars, and perfectionism can become an ingrained way of coping with these wounds. For example, a child who experienced emotional neglect might grow up believing that they must be perfect to earn love and attention. Similarly, a child bullied for their mistakes might become a perfectionist to avoid criticism and rejection.

The Inner Critic

Another key cause of perfectionism is the inner critic, that relentless voice in our heads that constantly judges and evaluates us. This inner critic can be particularly harsh for perfectionists, whispering doubts, magnifying flaws, and reinforcing the belief that we’re not good enough. The inner critic can originate from negative childhood experiences, social comparisons, or unrealistic expectations we internalize.

Can Perfectionism Be Cured? A Journey, Not a Destination

While perfectionism may be deeply ingrained, it’s not a life sentence. With awareness, self-compassion, and the right tools, individuals can learn to manage perfectionistic tendencies and cultivate a healthier relationship with themselves and their goals. Therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), are helpful in identifying and changing the underlying beliefs and thought patterns that fuel perfectionism.

The journey to overcome perfectionism is not about becoming complacent or lowering your standards. It’s about finding a balance between striving for excellence and accepting that mistakes are a natural part of the human experience. It’s about recognizing that our worth is not determined by our achievements but by our inherent value as humans.

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