Understanding Atelophobia: The Fear of Imperfection and How to Overcome It

Understanding Atelophobia: The Fear of Imperfection and How to Overcome It


An intense fear of imperfection, where individuals tend to harshly judge themselves for being not perfect and set unachievable goals. This may sound like one of the symptoms of OCD but it is called Atelophobia. Let’s learn the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments of atelophobia in
this reading.

What is Atelophobia?

Atelophobia is characterized by an extreme and enduring fear of imperfection, causing individuals to set unachievable goals. This intense fear can result in high levels of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, or even panic attacks, often triggered by mistakes or errors. When discussing the prevalence of this condition, atelophobia has not had sufficient research, based on information from the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 12.5% of Americans are likely to have a specific phobia and it is more prevalent in females than males. Before the symptoms, causes, and other kind of stuff, understanding phobia is important.

What is Phobia?

A phobia is an anxiety disorder where individuals experience intense, irrational fear related to a specific situation, living thing, place, or object. The term ‘phobia’ often refers to a fear of a specific trigger, but according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), there are three recognized types namely, Specific phobia- which involves an intense and irrational fear of a particular trigger, Social phobia- intense fear of being ashamed, or embarrassed in a public situation, and Agoraphobia- intense fear of situations where escape might be difficult.

Read More: Understanding Psychology Behind Fear and Phobias

Atelophobia vs Perfectionism:

Atelophobia may sound like perfectionism but it is not then, what is the difference between these two? Perfectionism is a personality trait by sets high standards and aims to do things without any flaws. For example, Hermione Granger from Harry Potter, sets high standards for herself. On the
other hand, atelophobia is an anxiety disorder where individuals experience intense fear of making mistakes or imperfections.

Perfectionism is the inclination to pursue perfection or flawlessness but atelophobia is the fear for imperfections. Perfectionism is driven by the quest for excellence but atelophobia is triggered by fear of failure. And also atelophobia can impact various facets of their lives, including academics, work, relationships, and social interaction.


Atelophobia can have a wide range of psychological and physical symptoms:

Psychological symptoms
  • Intense fear or persistent fear.
  • Setting unachievable goals.
  • Judging yourself.
  • Distress in social, work, academics, and relationships.
  • Repeatedly thinking or talking about your past life mistakes with yourself.
  • Anger.
  • Feelings of depression or sadness.
  • Exhaustion or fatigue.
  • Difficulty in concentrating on anything other than their fear.
  • Emotional detachment from others.
  • Pessimistic outlook on life.
  • Difficulty accepting criticism.
  • Irritability
  • Experiencing emotional distress results in anxiety, panic, hypervigilance, and poor concentration.
Physical Symptoms

‘Atelophobia can induce panic attacks, which can result in symptoms such as,

  • Chills.
  • Excessive sweating.
  • Heart palpitations.
  • Nausea.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Trembling or shaking.
  • Digestion problems.
  • Dizziness.
  • Dryness in mouth.
  • Sleep cycle changes or experience disturbed sleep.
  • Crying without control.

Causes of Atelophobia

The causes for atelophobia are still clearly unknown not only for this condition but most of the phobias’ causes are unclear.

  • Trauma: Traumas such as abuse, severe punishment for making mistakes, or scars and stress that mistakes have left in them, make the person have an intense fear of making mistakes.
  • Family History: Family history with phobias and anxiety disorders. Research shows that if the individual’s biological forebears had experienced atelophobia or other phobias and anxiety disorder might lead to this condition.
  • Own History: The individuals themselves experiencing anxiety disorders, phobias, and panic attacks might result in this condition.
  • Environment: Growing up in an environment where emphasized perfectionism or mistakes were heavily criticized and achievements were never considered satisfactory might lead to atelophobia. Or raised by perfectionist parents or caregivers may instill a fear of imperfection.
  • Biological Factor: According to the DSM-5-TR, changes in the amygdala function are thought to be the bias for numerous anxiety disorders, including specific phobias. The amygdala is responsible for perceiving and reacting to threats, among other roles in the brain. So changes in amygdala may lead to atelophobia.


Atelophobia should diagnosed by mental health professionals like psychologists, psychiatrists, or licensed therapists. Healthcare providers will assess the symptoms through the interview, in this they will inquire about the symptoms, and medical history, conduct a comprehensive physical examination and consider family, social, and occasional background.

They possibly used other tests to rule out underlying health issues including brain imaging and blood tests to know about the causes also they asked the patients to answer self-report questionnaires. By the collected information through the interview, self-report questionnaire and other tests, they will use the diagnostic criteria for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (DSM-5) published by the American Psychiatric Association to make their diagnosis.


  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: It aims to shift your perspective on imperfection by exploring why you perceive mistakes negatively instead of as opportunities for learning. Therapists help you identify the specific triggers that result in anxiety.
  • Exposure Therapy: Exposure therapy involves gradually reducing the fear of imperfection by exposing yourself to the triggers and learning effective coping strategies in a safe and controlled environment. For example, if a person has a fear of cats, professionals will gradually help them overcome this fear. First, they provide information about cats and explain that they are not harmful. Then, they allow the person to slowly interact with cats in a safe and controlled environment. Over time, this gradual exposure helps reduce the symptoms of the fear.
  • Talk Therapy: Atelophobia can also co-occur with depression, anxiety, and other problems. This is an opportunity to address the emotional distress, acquire skills for managing symptoms of anxiety, and diminish the negative consequences associated with phobia.
  • Changing Lifestyle: Making lifestyle changes such as maintaining a nutritious diet and engaging in regular exercise can also enhance the mood and reduce feelings of depression or negative thinking. Practicing deep breathing, mindfulness, yoga, and meditation also assist in
    managing anxiety and preventing panic attacks.
  • Medications: Taking medications does not help to address the root cause of this condition, but it can alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Your healthcare professionals might suggest antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, or beta-blockers to manage the symptoms.

In conclusion, Atelophobia is an intense fear of imperfection, where individuals tend to harshly judge themselves for being not perfect and set unachievable goals. It may show signs like Intense fear or persistent fear, setting unachievable goals, judging yourself, distress in social, work, academics, and relationships, and so on. The causes for this condition are not known but experts suggest that family history, environment, biological condition, trauma, and other psychological disorders may be the root of atelophobia. However its symptoms can be treated through
medications, talk therapy, Exposure Therapy, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It is okay to be not okay, please access the help of mental health professionals, if you have any confusion regarding this condition.


1. Can Atelophobia be cured?

It may not be completely cured, but individuals can learn to manage their symptoms and improve their self-esteem through therapy and self-care practices.

2. Is Atelophobia common?

It is not as common as other problems but can affect individuals who struggle with perfectionism or had significant experiences of failure or criticism.

3. Can Atelophobia lead to other mental health issues?

Yes, it can contribute to anxiety disorders, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) because of the stress and pressure.

4. How is Atelophobia treated?

Treatment involves Cognitive behavioral Therapy (CBT), talk therapy, exposure therapy, and medications. Meditation, mindfulness, yoga, and breathing techniques are also beneficial.

References +
  • Carr, N. (2024, January 16). Atelophobia: Symptoms, causes & treatment. MentalHealth.com. https://www.mentalhealth.com/disorder/specific-phobia/atelophobia
  • Gupta, S. (2023, April 27). What to know about atelophobia (Fear of Imperfection). Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/atelophobia-fear-of-imperfection-symptoms-causestreatment-coping-7377192
  • Lindberg, S. (2020, April 17). Understanding atelophobia, the fear of imperfection. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/atelophobia
  • Phobias. (n.d.). Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditionsanddiseases/phobias#:~:text=A%20phobia%20is%20an%20uncontrollable,that%20lasts%20for%20several%20minutes
  • Professional, C. C. M. Atelophobia (Fear of imperfection). Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21932-atelophobia-fear-ofimperfection#management-and-treatment
  • West, M. (2024, January 4). Atelophobia: Symptoms, causes, and treatment. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/atelophobia-meaning-symptoms-and-treatment

Leave feedback about this

  • Rating