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Last Updated: Dec 26, 2020
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Atelophobia (Fear of Imperfection) : Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

About Symptoms Causes Diagnosis Treatment How to overcome the fear of imperfection? Tips
Atelophobia (Fear of Imperfection) : Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

What is Atelophobia?

In our daily lives, we try our best to achieve the best at everything. Whether it’s in the type of work we do, for our lifestyle or career. For most people, we make peace with the fact that not everything is perfect or imperfection is a part of life. But for many, this becomes an enfeebling phobia called Atelophobia. This phobia can affect the daily lifestyle and intrude with everything that they do.

Atelophobia is a type of phobia, recognised by the American Psychology Association. It is a type of anxiety disorder characterised by having a fear of imperfection or failure in the future. In atelophobia, the person is led by a constant fear of not being good enough. It comes from a constant judgement of things around them. They are more likely to see the negative side of a situation first. They do not believe that they’re doing things perfectly, correctly or there are no mistakes.

These ‘perfectionists’ do not look to achieve perfection. But they try not to get any criticism for their work. Hence they become hard on themselves and rely on self-criticism to achieve that perfection. You can also conclude that this obsession with perfection is not only neurotic but also driven by fear.

Symptoms of Atelophobia

Just like other types of phobias, atelophobia also has the symptoms that originate when triggered. Emotional distress is one of them. Apart from that, the person can also manifest fear, anxiety, bad concentration, hyper-alertness.

The impact of your mental state will also be visible on your body. Due to which a person might experience:

  • Headache
  • Stomach pain
  • Muscle Fatigue
  • Excessive sweating
  • Dry Mouth
  • Migraine
  • Poor Quality of Sleep
  • Restlessness
  • Making fewer mistakes (or at least trying to)
  • Dizziness
  • Hyper-vigilant to criticism
  • Reassurance Seeking
  • Indecisiveness
  • Rechecking one thing again and again

Apart from the physical and psychological symptoms there are some major signs that might indicate that you are victim of Atelophobia:

  1. You’re steering clear of situation where you might make mistake:

    This situation is the biggest indicator of atelophobia is avoiding situations where you might appear imperfect by making mistakes. Many people mistake this one for fear of being judged by others.

    But the person who is suffering from atelophobia doesn’t have the fear of making mistakes because of other people’s opinions but because of their own.

    This is the reason why atelophobic people decide to skip some events completely is because the mere thought is terrifying and they can't help but judge themselves and keep dwelling on the fear of imperfection instead of facing it.

  2. You are highly critical of your own work:

    You always do a double check on everything before you publish it. People suffering from this Atelophobia constantly look at their own flaws, imperfections and mistakes in each & every aspect of their lives.

    The fear of imperfection turns into a void where you no longer think rationally and wherever you go and whatever you do, the fear follows you.

  3. You’d rather do nothing than do something wrong:

    Sometimes feel like you’d rather be a couch potato and do nothing rather doing something wrong? A person suffering from atelophobia may feel extremely frustrated and anxious due to uncertainty of a new task that you’re not familiar with. The individual has an indescribable fear of making mistakes, they are really good at making excuses in order to avoid doing something. The sufferer would choose to do nothing before doing something which might result in imperfections.

  4. Your fear of imperfection interferes with your everyday life:

    The fear can cause serious difficulties in the workplace, and with relationships and in a regular daily life. It can go to the extent of making an individual feel paralyzed and unable to deal with.

  5. You’re deathly terrified of flaws:

    We all are scared of specific things to certain extent but when that fear sometimes becomes irrational, that is atelophobia. For example, if you are terrified of making mistakes in your projects, speaking in public, it means you’re terrified of your flaws.

    Some people have an obsessive tendency to make things look perfect or prepare themselves to perfection for a specific event, meaning you’re not in control of your mind or body.

Causes of Atelophobia

Atelophobia can also be a person’s response to the surroundings that demand a constant requirement of perfection. These are a few possible causes for the Atelophobia:

  • Atelophobia can be biological. That means it can be in your genetic mechanism to be sensitive. You thrive to achieve perfection and feel anxious about little details.
  • It can also be caused by a traumatic experience the person has had in the past, related to him or her not being able to exhibit the level of perfection they were expected.
  • Apart from that one of the possible mistakes, as we mentioned earlier could be the surroundings the person was brought up in. They might have lived in an environment where there was no space to make a mistake. And during their bringing up they couldn’t learn how to take the failures or be more open to mistakes and failures.
  • Sometimes, it is developed due to the type of work that the person does; there are a few fields where failure can be a fatality. Over time, they become adaptive to that situation and follow the same in their daily lives.

How to diagnosis Atelophobia?

If you feel like you might be that person and it’s hard for you to take the pressure under some critical situations because you seek perfection. Then we advise you to visit a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist. They follow a special guideline from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) by the American Psychiatric Association that has criteria for all the types of phobias.

If the episodes of emotional distress are more frequent it is suggested to seek help. Where the professional might diagnose them based on their experience. Most often people report that they experience the inability to control their emotions during the trigger, that affects their daily work and social functioning.

Apart from that people with severe cases of Atelophobia are more likely to show the signs of depression, anxiety and use of the substance.

Treatment for Atelophobia:

Just like the other type of phobias, atelophobia is also treated by using a combination of medication and psychotherapy. In some cases, patients are also suggested to make a few lifestyle changes that complement the psychotherapy.

Your health professional might use techniques like CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to eliminate the negative thoughts that surface during the trigger. Another popular method that is used frequently to treat atelophobia is Exposure Therapy where the patient is exposed to their fears in a controlled environment. In this case, the fears would be criticism, failures and mistakes. Using exposure therapy patients are mentally trained to change their responses towards their fears.

Medications are used to control the symptoms during episodes like anxiety and lack of sleep. But medication is not a solution to the problem.

How to overcome the fear of imperfection?

Seeking help when you are under the influence of phobias like these, is not a bad thing. Same goes for providing help to the needy. It takes time to get over the phobias, so it is requested to be patient and open to help. There are ways you can use to overcome the phobia by your own or at least diminish the symptoms. You can try these:

  1. Talk to someone closer to you
  2. Exercise daily
  3. Keep yourself away from stressful situations
  4. Start accepting little failures
  5. Seek help if it’s out of control

Tips to handle the Fear of Imperfection

If you seek the help of a mental health expert, they could help you get over it, have a new perspective towards it and teach you a few new techniques to cope with your fears. We all want to achieve perfection and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, on some levels, we should be able to anticipate and accept our failures and realise that there are going to be a few mistakes, shortcoming and failures.

Content Details
Written By
PhD (Pharmacology) Pursuing, M.Pharma (Pharmacology), B.Pharma - Certificate in Nutrition and Child Care
Reviewed By
MD - Consultant Physician
General Physician
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