Perfectionism is setting you up for failure

vector picture showing a woman choosing between different types of mindsets: scared, sad, or happy

November 2, 2023

I owe it to Brene Brown’s work to be able to share one of the most helpful insights regarding the need to be perfect: “From perfection there is nowhere to go but down”. Compulsive perfectionism is a recipe for failure and many people seek it without even knowing.

Perfectionism can take many forms and it appears in all areas of life. Despite being rewarded in certain settings, perfectionism sets us up for a race we will never win. In this article for Life Coach Directory, I explore causes of perfectionism, delve into examples of perfectionism in practice and offer a healthier alternative.

Don’t miss the website bonus section on common triggers of perfectionism!


1. The ironclad logic of being perfect

  • Infant inferiority
  • Internalised commands
  • The slippery pole and compensation

2. The fear of not being enough

  • Perfectionism as a coping mechanism against anxiety
  • Real self vs. ideal self

3. Self-fulfilling prophecies

  • Vicious cycle of attaining perfection

4. Recognise the perfectionism trap

  • Perfectionism in love relationships
  • Perfectionism in work relationships

5. The archenemy of perfectionism

  • The horizontal plane
  • Looking outward, not inward

6. It’s a long and winding road

  • My therapeutic coaching model for working with perfectionism

Common triggers for perfectionism

If you read my article on Life Coach Directory, you’ll see how perfectionism emerges as a safeguarding mechanism against deeply shameful feelings of inferiority. Because we are all unique individuals with unique upbringings and experiences, the sources of our inferiority feelings can differ in nuance. That doesn’t mean there can’t be any patterns. Here are some common triggers and associated fears that lead to perfectionism. I found inspiration for this list from Christiane Sanderson’s work on shame. 

Learn more about shame here.

Fear of humiliation

Being laughed at is your worst nightmare so you will do everything in your power to avoid that. If that means being a perfect employee, friend, student or partner, so be it. You steer clear of any instance where something you say might be wrong or silly, even if that means you’ll stay silent. For you, the phrase “nothing ventured, nothing gained” turns into the opposite and reads more like “if you don’t risk, you can’t be humiliated”.

Comparison with others

If you grew up with siblings, you probably were subjected to comparisons. Your brother makes his bed better. Your little sister is always on time. Why can’t you be as good at piano as your cousin? Look at X, that’s how you throw a ball. These sentences can trigger painful memories. The school system comes in to fan the flame of inferiority that gives birth to perfectionism. As an adult, you can avoid comparisons at all costs by choosing a secluded lifestyle, or you internalise comparisons so strongly that it has become your only way of gauging your value.


“Get on with it” – four words that might have dictated your strive for superhuman perfection. Having a need was perceived as something flawed and defective, so now you strongly believe you can take everything on without a shadow of a complaint. Only weak people complain, anyway. Perfection means doing all the projects all the time and being an indubitable tour de force.


Isolation is one of the most gruesome punishments your mind can conceive. If you happen to equate being perfect with always being included and acknowledged, it is understandable how perfectionism is a tool to avoid being pushed away. For example, at work the fear of not being part of a group pushes you to be the perfect co-worker: always willing to do tasks for others, always affable and in a good mood.

If you’re struggling with the weight of perfectionism, know that you’re not alone. I’m here to offer you a helping hand and guide you through the challenges. You don’t have to carry this burden by yourself. If you’re ready to let go and move forward, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. Together, we can build a brighter future, filled with more ease and self-compassion.