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It is normal to want to be the best you can be, but people with a condition called atelophobia take this aspiration to the extreme. They have an irrational fear of not being perfect. As you can imagine in this imperfect world where so much can go wrong, a person with atelophobia would experience a great deal of anxiety trying to avoid what they fear most - imperfection. This irrational fear can negatively impact every aspect of their life from relationships to job performance.
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What are the Signs and Symptoms of Atelophobia?
Because an atelophobic fears imperfection, they set impossibly high standards for themselves. This makes it difficult for them to complete or even start tasks – because they can never do them well enough to satisfy their own lofty expectations.
Despite the fact that atelophobia usually affects people who are intelligent and multi-talented, they usually underperform and accomplish little, because they’re constantly revising every project they take on to reach their unattainable standard of perfection.
With their constant drive to achieve perfection, atelophobics often experience anxiety symptoms. They feel the need to achieve, but are afraid to take on a task or project for fear of not living up to their own standards. This creates internal conflict, which frequently leads to severe anxiety, insomnia, depression and difficulty forming relationships with other people. The atelophobic’s rigidness and their demanding personality hides an insecure interior that doesn't feel worthy unless it achieves perfection.
Atelophobics may also expect those around them to be impossibly perfect. Needless to say, this makes it difficult for them to form and enjoy satisfying relationships, and a challenge to hold down meaningful employment since they have a problem completing tasks. If they do gain employment, they may be unable to complete their own assignments yet be critical of other people’s 'imperfect' work. Not surprisingly, some atelophobics become socially isolated because of their inability to function in a flawed society.
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What Causes Atelophobia?
No one knows the exact cause of atelophobia. It’s possible that some people have a genetic predisposition to this disorder and that structural or biochemical brain abnormalities are modified by environmental influences. For example, a person with atelophobia may have grown up with a parent who held them to impossibly high standards they could never live up to. In a person who’s predisposed to anxiety, this type of influence could trigger a lifelong fear of imperfection. The symptoms of atelophobia may first appear during childhood, around the time a child begins school - and carry over into adulthood.
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The Bottom Line?
Atelophobics (like most people with irrational fears) have varying degrees of anxiety and are affected to greater or lesser amounts. In some cases, an atelophobic can deal with their fear well enough to be productive in society, although others will need professional counseling and treatment.
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Jacobson: Psychiatric Secrets, 2nd ed. 2001.
Rakel: Textbook of Family Medicine, 7th ed. 2007.