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Atelophobia: The Fear of Imperfection

Atelophobia: The Fear of Imperfection

Updated on Jun 26, 2023

Reviewed by Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD , Certified Psychiatrist

Atelophobia Fear of Imperfection - Signs, Causes & How to Overcome It

In modern society, the fear of not being enough has built a home in the hearts of many people. In fact, now there’s a word for it – atelophobia. We are often told that we are more than our fears and, in most ways, it’s true.

However, in the course of life, we often experience negative emotions that result in negative thoughts. With time, we allow these thoughts to become permanent in our subconscious.

In today’s world, life has become a task. The pressure to live exotically or luxuriously has made people become obsessed with achieving high standards. This has reached the point where we have forgotten the true meaning of life, that is, just flowing with time.

So, today, we shall learn about the meaning, signs, and treatment of fear of not being good or imperfection, or atelophobia.

Atelophobia Infographic

Atelophobia is the fear of imperfection
Atelophobia is the fear of imperfection

What Is Atelophobia?

To put it simply, Atelophobia is the fear of imperfection. People with atelophobia are always worried that they will do something wrong. However, they also want to achieve an irrational level of perfection in their personal and professional life.

They set high standards for themselves and are overwhelmed with negative emotions when their irrational standards aren’t met.

Such individuals are literally terrified of committing any mistakes because they are always monitoring themselves. They live in constant fear of messing up whatever they do in life. This makes it quite a suffering for these people.

Atelophobia is derived from two Greek words. The prefix ‘atelo (s)’ means ‘imperfect’ and the postfix ‘phobia’ refers to ‘fear.’ Thus, atelophobia means the fear of being imperfect or not good enough.

Atelophobia is one, obsessive fear of one’s own imperfection, and two, one’s own internal fear caused by intense memories. It is a psychological and pathological fear which has its roots in childhood.

Such fear is found in teenagers mostly because of their desire to find perfect friendship, love, or college. There are chances of development of this fear in children whose parents focus on always pleasing their child. Out of love, such parents never point out their failures for the fear of hurting them.

When these children step into the real world, they understand that no one will take care of them as well as their parents did. Thus, they develop these irrational thoughts and fears in order to survive in a world that seems cruel at first sight.  

This results in a fear of failure and stops individuals from trying new things and experiences. This also leads to anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, even suicidal tendencies.

Atelophobia Pronunciation

How to pronounce atelophobia

Atelophobia Symptoms

There are many emotional, mental, and physical symptoms of atelophobia. Such people don’t do anything for the fear of failing or interacting with anyone who tries to connect with them. Let’s find out all the possible symptoms of people who suffer from atelophobia.

Mental symptoms

  • Having problems focusing on anything apart from the fear
  • Being detached from oneself and thus, the world
  • Extreme fear of failure
  • Low self-esteem
  • Low self-worth
  • Extremely disappointed if failed at something
  • Pessimistic view of life and things in general
  • Expecting a negative outcome from every situation
  • Responding unrealistically to certain situations

Emotional symptoms

  • Constant worry about everything
  • Overwhelming fear
  • Negative display of emotions, such as anger, sadness, disappointment, and hurt
  • Triggered to leave even during a mildly difficult situation
  • Sudden anxiety or panic attacks

Physical symptoms

  • Perspiration
  • Sweaty hands
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Panic attacks
  • Trembling of body
  • Insomnia
  • Chest pains
  • Increased heartbeat
  • Constant restlessness
  • Hot and cold flashes
  • Tingly feeling
  • Dry mouth
  • Numbness

Causes of Atelophobia

The exact causes of atelophobia aren’t known yet. However, it is believed that intense fear is the result of learned behavior in early teenage life. This can also go back to early childhood where parents give every possible thing to their child in order to please them.

With time, the fears worsen and the condition becomes more serious. This is one of those specific phobias that branch out from a deep childhood memory or some trauma. For once, this phobia does not stem from any social or non-social behavior.

One of the causes of this phobia might also include genetics and hereditary reasons. Also, a memory of physical harm done to oneself or a relative can result in a phobia, including this fear. Sometimes, going through a similar event in adulthood can trigger or worsen this fear.

This might also be a result of strict parents or teachers who want the child to attain perfection. This pursuit of perfection however negatively impacts the mental health of the child.

This results in the development of certain fears that only get intense with time, if not checked well or treated by a professional.

Basically, any fear, including this fear, is developed in the subconscious mind in order to protect a person from a possible new or dangerous situation. In most cases, there is no ‘dangerous’ situation but due to instilled fear, it seems so.

5 Main Signs of Atelophobia

Even though people have a hard time accepting that they have any phobias, including this one, it is important to notice the signs that direct that a person may or may not be suffering from atelophobia.

According to Dr. Jennice Vilhauer, “Here are people who consider themselves to be perfectionists, who would not consider [it] to be a problem at all. In fact, they would see it as an asset.” (As told to Bustle).

She continues, “[Fear of imperfection] only becomes a problem when it gets into that spectrum where … it’s causing them to avoid things; it’s causing them to have a significant amount of emotional distress.”

Atelophobia is certainly more than setting high standards for oneself. It is a deep-seated fear of imperfection and people are often losing control in completing a simple task. They focus so much on monitoring themselves that they lose complete focus from the task.

Anyhow, below are the main signs of atelophobia –

1. Afraid of flaws or making mistakes

Look at it like this, when you are minutes away from public speaking, you are nervous. However, someone with a phobia will entirely skip the event. The reason behind the same is because many a time, he or she thinks that they might actually die. This is exactly what phobia is.

People suffering from atelophobia strongly respond to certain events under which they demand perfection. However, with such irrational high standards, anyone would fail to achieve what they want. This results in more negative emotions and the condition only worsens with time.

2. The set standards are impossible to be met

People with atelophobia are highly critical of their work and performance. They themselves are looking out for their mistakes and contribute to enhancing their phobia. They expect so much perfectionism from their work that they end up doing nothing at all.

When people set extraordinary expectations from their work, they work hard to attend that goal. This is often referred to as perfectionism. However, in the case of atelophobia, it is not the same.

Here, there are only expectations from oneself and no the desired input to achieve the standard. This doesn’t mean that such people are incapable of performing the task. It’s just that they are not able to look beyond the standards because their fear gets in.

3. Rather not do anything than do something below standard

Instead of finding fresh ideas to finish the task, people with atelophobia would rather focus their energy on building creative ways to not do the task. Avoiding a task simply means putting it off or procrastinating.

We all know how that works! However, this is a subconscious reflex of this phobia. One can’t help but run away from the problem or task. Since it will not meet the set standard by these people, they will end up getting disappointed in themselves.

4. Completely avoiding situations where one can make a mistake

Since we have already discussed that atelophobia makes the person afraid of committing any mistakes, this one shouldn’t be surprising. If certain situations arise, they’d rather run away from there or turn a blind eye to it than do the task.

Doing the task would mean wanting perfection. However, they wouldn’t want to deal with it because if they commit a mistake, it would bring up a surge of unwanted, negative thoughts and emotions.

People suffering from atelophobia are quite different from people who have social phobia. People with social phobia don’t want to do a task because they are usually afraid that other people will judge them.

However, people suffering from atelophobia do not need others to judge them for they are harshly judging themselves already! This is why atelophobia often feels like an intense version of social phobia.

5. The fear makes it difficult for people to function in life

The fear of imperfection or not being good enough is so intense that it affects the normal functioning of an individual in society. Now, don’t confuse it with everyday fears. These fears are dealt with by individuals every day no matter how scared they are.

However, people suffering from atelophobia are incapable of delivering a task on time or completing it at all. Such people also have a terrible time maintaining relationships because fear becomes their first nature. They are afraid all the time.

Atelophobia Treatment

The treatment of atelophobia depends on the severity of the condition. It varies from person to person. Usually, it is treated with the help of anti-anxiety medications and psychotherapy.

There are mainly two types of psychotherapy-

Cognitive-behavioral therapy

Under this form of therapy, the patient’s brain is rewired by exposing him or her to situations where it would trigger his or her emotions. The triggers are required so that he or she responds out of their fear of imperfection to help the therapist pinpoint the exact triggers.

This therapy helps the patient to deal with a new situation gently and calmly, which reduces and with time, disappears any kind of phobia related to it.

In this situation, patients are given access to situations where some kind of work performance is demanded from them. The time to seek the task, intensity of it, the way of handling a problem, everything is monitored and with time, progress is made.

The human brain is used to adapting things and situations quickly. Thus, the patient learns to grow more beautifully in the situation and soon, gets free of his or her fear of any kind.

CGT is a more intense and recommended form of therapy for people suffering from atelophobia. Under this therapy, patients not only learn to control their fears but also gain much-needed confidence and mastery of their thoughts.

Thus, it is advised to go for this therapy, even if you do not suffer from any kind of fear or anxiety. CGT only brings out the positive side of your personality.

Exposure therapy

Under this therapy, the patient’s response to certain objects or situations that trigger their fear is focused upon first.

This is followed by finding ways to expose them to more similar situations. The repeated exposure to such objects or situations results in better management of one’s fear.

With time, the thoughts or anxiety related to these fears are dissolved because the mind adapts to such situations with time and repetition.

For instance, if you are afraid of swings, then your therapy will start with just thinking about swings. This will be followed by how you loved spending time on and around it as a child.

You shall then start looking at the pictures of a swing followed by walking to it and around it. Once your brain will settle looking at it and feeling okay, even good around it, you can give it a try. Slowly and gradually, you will learn to handle this fear.


While psychotherapy helps in dissolving many kinds of phobias, including this one, there are certain medications that help in alleviating anxiety, panic attacks, and related symptoms.

For this reason, anti-anxiety medicines are prescribed to patients suffering from any kind of phobia.

Beta-blockers and sedatives are two main and common types of medication provided to patients suffering from phobias. Beta-blockers stimulate the effects of adrenaline, such as racing heartbeat, sweating, and dizziness.

On the other hand, sedatives, such as benzodiazepines help in relaxing or calming the body in triggering situations. Please note that sedatives are addictive in nature and you should consult your doctor before taking any.

Apart from the above, meditation, yoga, exercises, running, dancing, writing, journaling, etc, are a few activities that can be made a part of your routine.

These activities will help in releasing your fears. There are certain breathing techniques that can naturally put your body at ease and help you recover from any fear that has currently found home in your body.

How to Overcome Atelophobia?

We all have suffered or are still suffering from some kind of fear. All of us are going through something in life. However, this doesn’t mean that the issue we are going through shouldn’t be addressed.

Obviously, we need to practice our new behavior and put the old pattern of behavior in the back seat. We become more positive human beings with the help of our new patterns. For the same reason, here are a few ways to be more assertive and less negative-

1. Say goodbye to shame and guilt

The biggest boo-ers of our lives are not people, but our negative emotions. We all have done wrong to someone; someone has done wrong to us as well.

In the same way, we have done good for someone and someone else has done things for us that we will forever be grateful for.

When we do not allow happy emotions to stay stuck inside us for a long time, then why allow negative emotions, such as shame and guilt to build a home in our gut?

Let go and stay unattached from everything and everyone.

2. Tell people how you are feeling

Even though a lot of them claim to, most people do not read minds. So, the best thing to do in this situation is to clearly communicate things that you want to tell them.

This will always make you feel good and light inside your body. When there are no stuck emotions, you won’t feel heavy. Such people love living life because they have no blocks.

3. Stay firm on your ground

When you stay around people, there will be uncomfortable situations. People will lie about you, spread rumors, even do utterly disrespectful things to you. However, the only thing that you should remember is to be true to yourself and stay firm on your ground.

If you are anywhere near-spiritual, then you would already know that what the other person is doing to you is his or her karma and they shall reap it with time. Remember, truth always wins in the end.

4. Don’t forget to breathe

The best way to drive any negative thought, emotion, fear, or block away from your body is to breathe well. Whenever you feel anxious, focus on your breath and feel your heart beating inside you.

There are certain breathing techniques as well, known as Pranayama in Sanskrit that can literally change your mindset. When you apply the breathing techniques, all the dead cells are replaced by new cells because they start receiving full oxygen.

So, learn the technique and take a lungful of breath as many times as you can during the day. Additionally, you can also spend some time in nature—walk barefoot, play a sport, or simply read a book sitting amid a garden or in a park and see the difference in yourself.

5. Know that you are enough

You are the way you are for a reason and that reason is that you are good enough. Do not restrict your glory to success or failure. You are a human being first, everything else comes later.

Our society has pressured us into thinking that we have no value if we do not amass a large house or financial resources. Do not give in to such restrictions and focus on enjoying life as much as you can.

Atelophobia Test

If you want to take the initial assessment of Atelophobia then you can check it here.

Here is an interesting video to understand the concept of Atelophobia –

What is Atelophobia? (Fear of imperfection; Fear of not being good enough)

Closing Thoughts

The best way to deal with any phobia is to not let it manifest into your brain in the first place. It should be the responsibility of the parents and the teacher to shape the mind of the child in such a way that he or she learns to express himself clearly and comfortably.

Sadly, in our society, this is not the case but the opposite. Thus, a sad child grows into a frustrated adult with a plethora of phobias in his or her head.

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