Paolo Assandri
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Free yourself from the chains of Clinical Perfectionism

Sarah, a 35-year-old accountant, is known for her meticulous attention to detail and relentless pursuit of perfection in her work. Sarah's colleagues admire her dedication, but little do they know the internal struggle she faces every day. Recently, Sarah found herself paralyzed with indecision while preparing a financial report for a high-profile client.

Despite having years of experience and expertise, she spent hours agonizing over every number and decimal point, terrified of making even the slightest mistake. Sarah's relentless pursuit of perfection has left her feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and unable to find joy in her accomplishments.

Like many others, Sarah is ensnared in the shackles of clinical perfectionism.

What is Clinical Perfectionism?

Clinical perfectionism is a psychological condition characterized by an excessive concern with achieving flawless outcomes and an inability to accept anything less than perfection.

It differs from the healthy pursuit of excellence in that it involves setting unrealistic standards and experiencing significant distress when those standards are not met. While striving for excellence can be motivating and rewarding, clinical perfectionism often leads to feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and self-doubt.

Symptoms of Clinical Perfectionism

The symptoms of clinical perfectionism can vary from person to person, but common signs include:

  1. Excessive Self-Criticism: Individuals with clinical perfectionism tend to be overly critical of themselves, focusing on perceived flaws and shortcomings even when praised by others.
  2. Fear of Failure: Clinical perfectionism is often driven by a deep-seated fear of failure, leading individuals to avoid taking risks or trying new things for fear of not meeting their own high standards.
  3. Obsessive Pursuit of Perfection: Those affected by clinical perfectionism dedicate an excessive amount of time and energy to achieving perfection in all aspects of their lives, often at the expense of their mental and physical well-being.
  4. Rigid Attention to Detail: People with clinical perfectionism have a tendency to become fixated on minor details, losing sight of the bigger picture and becoming overwhelmed by seemingly insignificant tasks.
  5. Psychological Distress: Clinical perfectionism can cause significant psychological distress, including anxiety, depression, and chronic stress, as individuals constantly feel inadequate and dissatisfied with their achievements.

5 Ways to Overcome Clinical Perfectionism

While overcoming clinical perfectionism can be challenging, it is possible with dedication and support. Here are five strategies to help individuals break free from the grip of perfectionism:

  1. Practice Self-Compassion: Learning to be kind and compassionate towards oneself is essential for overcoming clinical perfectionism. Instead of berating oneself for perceived shortcomings, individuals can cultivate self-compassion by treating themselves with the same kindness and understanding they would offer to a friend facing similar challenges.
  2. Set Realistic Goals: Setting realistic and achievable goals can help reduce the pressure associated with clinical perfectionism. Breaking tasks down into smaller, manageable steps can make them feel less overwhelming and increase the likelihood of success.
  3. Challenge Negative Thoughts: Cognitive-behavioral techniques can be effective in challenging the negative thoughts and beliefs that fuel clinical perfectionism. By identifying and challenging distorted thinking patterns, individuals can develop a more balanced and realistic perspective on their achievements and failures.
  4. Embrace Imperfection: Learning to embrace imperfection is crucial for overcoming clinical perfectionism. Recognizing that nobody is perfect and that mistakes are a natural part of the learning process can help individuals let go of unrealistic standards and embrace a healthier approach to life.
  5. Seek Professional Help: Finally, seeking support from a therapist or mental health professional can be instrumental in overcoming clinical perfectionism. Therapy can provide individuals with the tools and strategies they need to challenge perfectionistic tendencies and develop healthier coping mechanisms.

Clinical perfectionism can be a debilitating condition that robs individuals of joy and fulfillment in life. However, by practicing self-compassion, setting realistic goals, challenging negative thoughts, embracing imperfection, and seeking professional help, individuals can break free from the grip of perfectionism and live more fulfilling lives.


"As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves."

Mahatma Gandhi


  • Gilbert, P., & Irons, C. (2005). Focused therapies and compassionate mind training for shame and self-attacking. In P. Gilbert (Ed.), Compassion: Conceptualisations, research and use in psychotherapy (pp. 263–325). Routledge.
  • Hewitt, P. L., & Flett, G. L. (1991). Perfectionism in the self and social contexts: Conceptualization, assessment, and association with psychopathology. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60(3), 456–470.
  • Mandel, T., & Sackett, A. M. (2008). The effect of reframing on perfectionism and performance: An experimental study. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 26(2), 121–136.

Author: Paolo Assandri is a HCPC Registered Counselling Psychologist and a UKCP Registered Full Clinical Psychotherapist. He is also a fully qualified Italian psychologist (Ordine degli Psicologi del Piemonte). He lives and works in London offering counselling and psychotherapy.

This exercise is not intended to replace any kind of medical/psychological therapy. Its only purpose is to increase individual perception of well-being. If you need medical or psychological support, please contact a qualified health practitioner. Authors, producers, consultants involved in the production of this exercise are not responsible for any psychological or physical injury which could happen during or after completing the activity explained in this article.

Do you want a more peaceful life? Learn to self-regulate!