Atelophobia (Fear of Imperfection)
What is atelophobia?
Atelophobia is an overwhelming fear of imperfection. People with atelophobia judge themselves very harshly, often setting unrealistic goals. They may get upset about mistakes they’ve made in the past or mistakes they’re afraid of making in the future. Atelophobia often leads to extreme anxiety, depression, low self-esteem or panic attacks.
Atelophobia is different than atychiphobia, which is a fear of failure.
Are atelophobia and perfectionism the same?
Atelophobia and perfectionism are different. Perfectionism is a personality trait. You hold yourself to extremely high standards and strive to be flawless. Atelophobia is an actual fear of flaws. Someone with atelophobia may avoid a situation in which they think they could make a mistake, seeing it as threatening. The fear can affect every aspect of their lives, from school and work to family life and social situations.
What is a phobia?
A phobia is an extreme fear or sense of panic about certain activities, objects or situations. Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder. Examples of common phobias include claustrophobia (fear of crowded, confined spaces) and ophidiophobia (fear of snakes).
How common is atelophobia?
There are few studies about the prevalence of atelophobia, but phobic disorders are fairly common. Research suggests that about 12% of adults and 19% of adolescents in the U.S. experience a specific phobia at some point in their lives. They’re about twice as common in females as they are in males.
Symptoms and Causes
What causes atelophobia?
Most phobic disorders don’t have a specific cause. You may be more likely to have atelophobia if you:
- Had a traumatic episode, such as suffering severe punishment or abuse for making a mistake.
- Have a family history of phobias, anxiety disorders or other mental health conditions.
- Have other phobias or anxiety disorders.
- Grew up in an environment where you learned to strive for perfection or that mistakes were unacceptable and nothing you did was ever good enough.
What are the symptoms of atelophobia?
Atelophobia can cause a wide range of psychological and physical symptoms. People with a fear of imperfection may exhibit:
- Anger or irritability.
- Burnout or fatigue.
- Depression or sadness.
- Emotional detachment from others.
- Inability to accept criticism.
- Inability to concentrate on anything apart from their fear.
- Pessimism (negative outlook on life).
Atelophobia can also cause panic attacks, which may lead to:
Diagnosis and Tests
How is atelophobia diagnosed?
There’s no specific test for atelophobia. Your healthcare provider will evaluate your symptoms and ask you detailed questions about your fear of imperfection. It’s important to provide as much detail as possible about your anxiety and what triggers it. In some cases, your provider will ask about your medical history, perform a complete physical and may order other tests to check for underlying health conditions.
Your provider may diagnose you with atelophobia if you:
- Avoid situations in which you could make a mistake or not perform at your best.
- Experience symptoms for six months or longer.
- Have severe anxiety at the thought of making a mistake or disappointing others.
- Have trouble at home, work or school due to your fear of imperfection.
People with atelophobia may also have other mental health conditions, such as
Management and Treatment
How is atelophobia managed or treated?
There are a variety of ways to manage a fear of imperfection, including:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT focuses on helping you change the way you think about imperfection. You may explore the reasons why you see mistakes as negative experiences rather than learning experiences. A therapist teaches you to identify the specific triggers that cause your anxiety.
- Exposure therapy: You work on desensitizing yourself to the fear of imperfections. After identifying your triggers with CBT, you expose yourself to the triggers and learn how to cope with them in safe, healthy ways.
- Lifestyle modifications: A healthy diet and regular exercise can help improve your mood and diminish feelings of depression or negative thinking. Deep breathing, yoga or meditation may help you manage anxiety and keep panic attacks at bay.
- Medication: The medication doesn’t treat the source of your fear. But it may reduce the symptoms of depression or anxiety that accompany atelophobia. Your healthcare provider may recommend antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, sedatives or beta-blockers.
Is there a way to prevent atelophobia?
There’s no way to prevent atelophobia, but you can take steps to reduce the negative effects it has on your life. You may benefit from:
- Creating a strong support system of friends and family members.
- Not consuming caffeine, recreational drugs or alcohol, which can make anxiety worse.
- Sharing your fears and concerns with a therapist or other healthcare provider.
Outlook / Prognosis
What’s the prognosis (outlook) for people with atelophobia?
Most people respond well to treatments such as psychotherapy, lifestyle adjustments or medication. You may be able to stop treatment once your symptoms improve, but talk to your healthcare provider before making any changes.
When should I call the doctor?
Contact your healthcare provider if you experience:
- Difficulty functioning in your daily life due to fear of imperfection.
- Symptoms of a panic attack.
What questions should I ask my doctor?
You may want to ask your healthcare provider:
- How long will I need treatment?
- Am I too obsessed with perfection?
- What changes can I make in my life to better cope with atelophobia?
- What if my fear of imperfection never goes away?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Atelophobia is an extreme fear of imperfection. Someone with this disorder may be terrified of making mistakes, or go to great lengths to avoid new situations because they can’t guarantee that they’ll succeed. It can lead to depression, anxiety, panic attacks and a negative outlook on life. If you think you may have atelophobia, talk to your healthcare provider. Most people can overcome this fear with the right combination of psychotherapy, lifestyle adjustments and medication.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy