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10 Signs That You Are Probably a Perfectionist

Updated on October 1, 2010

A perfectionist is someone who believes that everything has to be perfect or it's not worth being done at all. The funny this is that perfectionists often don't realize that this is their belief. It seems so obvious to them that this is the way life is that they don't even stop to think about it. Although there are some great things about being a perfectionist (it causes you to strive hard to do your best, for example) there are also many damaging effects of perfectionism. If you're too hard on yourself then you can have trouble accomplishing your goals, maintaining your self-esteem and enjoying your life. And if you're too hard on others then you can do some serious damage to your relationships and even to the psyches of those that you're closest to.

Take a look at these ten signs to see if you might be a perfectionist:

1. You believe that there is only one right way to do most things. You think that there is one right way to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (peanut butter on one slice and jelly on the other) and that there's one right way to have a marriage (monogamous with kids) and no one can tell you otherwise. The truth is that there are many different "right" ways to do things and we each have to find those things for ourselves. If you don't believe this then there's a good chance that you're a perfectionist.

2. You obsess over the mistakes that you make. Days later you're still thinking about the fact that a teacher or boss asked you a question that you weren't able to answer. You're mortified when you see typos in your work. Sure it's normal to be embarrassed when our shortcomings are revealed to others but it's not nearly so normal to keep obsessing about mistakes once the moment has passed. If you do this then you might be a perfectionist.

3. You often tell other people what they are doing wrong. You can't help it. You think that you're doing a good thing by helping them to correct their errors. It may be that you want to help a friend dump the guy that is obviously a loser or it could be that you wish the secretary would load the toner the right way. If you find yourself doing this multiple times each day then you're likely a perfectionist and it's affecting the people around you.

4. You are very competitive and can't stand to lose. There's nothing wrong with a little bit of healthy competition. However you have to understand the idea that you "win some and lose some". If you can't bear to lose - and especially if you think that it means that there's something wrong with you - then you've got a problem with being a perfectionist. Notice your levels of competitiveness and whether or not they are helpful in your life.

5. If you can't do something "perfectly" then you won't do it at all. You won't turn in a paper that you didn't have a chance to revise even if your rough draft is very strong. You won't enter a meeting late; you'd rather not show up at all. You won't sign up for sports that are just for fun because what's the point of being on a team that isn't competitive? If you feel like there's no point in doing something that you can't be the best at and can't do the absolute best in then you've certainly got a problem with being a perfectionist.

6. You are very conscious of other people's expectations. Granted, this could just mean that you're tuned in to what other people expect of you. However, if this is something that you pay a lot of attention to regardless of the setting that you're in - and you feel the need to try to meet or exceed those expectations - then it could be that you're a perfectionist. Pay attention to other people but not at the expense of setting your own realistic expectations for yourself.

7. You overreact when you make an error in front of others.  You simply can't handle other people seeing you "mess up". You overreact by crying, leaving the place that you're at, insisting that you can never again see the people who you were with, etc. Very few mistakes in life warrant this kind of reaction. It's the perfectionist in you that's making you feel like it's normal to feel this way.

8. You stick with a task long after others would have given up. You've been trying to work on a math problem for six hours and you're still not getting it. All of your classmates would have given up by now but you're going to work at it until you've solved the problem. You'll lose sleep if you have to. The same thing happens at work and even at home. If you can't ever give up even when a majority of people would agree that it's reasonable to do so then you might just be persistent but you're probably really a perfectionist.

9. You don't have any "pointless" hobbies. You don't ever do things that don't have an obvious purpose. You don't do things that have no set rewards. If you have hobbies, they always have results that you can measure. Most likely, you don't have any hobbies at all. On the other hand, you may have too many hobbies and you feel like you have to be the best at them. If there aren't any things that you're just mediocre at but you do them because you enjoy them then you sound like a perfectionist.

10. You won't ask for help. Most perfectionists don't ask other people for help. They don't want to be seen as weak. They don't want other people to think that they need help with anything. In other words, they want to be perfect. 

Did any of these sound like you? If so then you might be a perfectionist. I know, it's tough to admit that this might be the case since it sounds like a problem and you don't like to be a person with problems. The good news is that if you address this problem then you'll become more accepting of yourself and ultimately do better at achieving your goals!


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