When writing my paper, I keep re-reading and looking things up, meaning I get behind with other assignments.


Did you know this?

A central aspect of perfectionism is the tendency to set high goals for oneself. Four in ten Flemish students score high on achievement-oriented perfectionism, and one in five score high on self-critical perfectionism. Female students are more perfectionist than male students. Younger students score higher on self-critical perfectionism.

Different forms of perfectionism

Young people are mainly perfectionist in the areas they value, be that their studies, hobbies, social relationships or appearance. Thus, you can pursue perfectionism in your studies, but at the same time be a huge slob who just can't get your own room tidy.

Performance-oriented perfectionism

You set high personal standards for yourself and derive from this the strength to perform to these standards. As long as you choose to do this yourself and do not experience pressure, this need not be unhealthy.

Self-critical perfectionism

You pursue extremely high goals but at the same time are very anxious and fearful of making mistakes. Your performance becomes the measure of whether or not you can be satisfied with yourself. With good performance, you feel valuable and satisfied with yourself. Lesser performances, on the other hand, you regard as great experiences of failure. Failure then – seen from a form of great self-criticism – also feels like a personal failure.


The two forms of perfectionism are not separate. Performance-oriented perfectionism can at some point turn into self-critical perfectionism when you conditionally tie your self-worth to achieving high standards. You experience anxiety and pressure, doubt your own ability or have the impression that others expect perfection from you.

Fear as a driver

Perfectionism is often driven by fear: fear of making mistakes, fear of failure, fear of losing control, fear of negative judgment from others or fear of not getting the appreciation you want. Perfectionism is actually a kind of self-protection: when you do everything perfectly, people are less likely to criticize you.

Environment can also play an important role. High expectations and criticism from parents are often associated with higher levels of perfectionism in adolescents.

Signs of perfectionism

Perfectionism manifests itself in thoughts, feelings and behavior. Some signs by which you can recognise perfectionism:

  • You don't want to share something with others until it is "done perfectly"
  • You are always working on plans and lists
  • You suffer from procrastination, because everything must be perfect
  • You have trouble relaxing, and always want to be productive
  • In your eyes, there is always something that can be done better, and your work is never finished
  • You are critical of yourself and others
  • You are afraid to do things wrong
  • You suffer a lot from worrying and negative thoughts
  • You have low self-esteem, so you look for confirmation from others
  • You can't stand it when others don't do a "perfect" job
  • You have difficulty delegating, because what if someone else doesn't do it right?
  • You think a lot about what others think of you and experience the fear of rejection
  • You don't want to share something with others until it is "perfectly finished"

Is perfectionism unhealthy?

Being performance-oriented has benefits. You go flat out for something, deliver great performance, and it also gives you pleasure and makes you proud.

As long as you choose this for yourself and experience no pressure, it can go hand in hand with increased engagement, strong academic performance and overall well-being.

It only becomes a problem when mistakes and failure is an absolute mortal sin in your eyes and you are never actually satisfied with yourself because of it.

This can lead to negative feelings (such as guilt, dissatisfaction, tension, anger or anxiety), health problems (such as burnout or migraines), social problems (such as isolating yourself or being clingy) and behavioural problems (such as putting too much time into things, procrastination or avoidance behaviour).

Reversing Perfectionism

To think differently is to do differently. Learning to direct your thoughts will give you more control over your perfectionism. Below are some tips and techniques that can help you turn your perfectionism into something positive:

  • Acknowledging that you exhibit perfectionist behaviour is the first step. It is important to realize that perfectionist behaviour can be unhealthy and that perfection is an illusion. Life is full of mistakes and imperfections. And that's normal.
  • Think about the thoughts and behaviours that feed your perfectionism. As a perfectionist, you often see things in black and white. Analyze the situations that create pressure. This way you become aware of your self-critical and all-or-nothing attitude and learn to look at situations in a realistic way.
  • Formulate small achievable goals to lower the bar from time to time. Small steps are the most successful. Emphasize taking action such as studying less for an hour. In doing so, you will learn to deal with the associated guilt and realize right away that some things will go wrong, so you must ask for help when you need it.
  • Focus on what matters to you. If you have a perfectionist attitude, you often focus on what others think is important. Getting to know your own values, goals and interests takes time. It pays to invest time in the search, because by thinking about your own internal compass, you can more easily set your course, stay the course and respond resiliently during difficult times.
  • Be gentle with yourself when you don't achieve your perfect goal or when you experience the feeling of failure. Let this feeling sink in for a moment. Know that it is human not to do everything perfectly and that you are not alone in this. Say a kind word to yourself as you would to a friend who came to you in the same situation, looking for comfort or help.
  • Focus on the things that do go well, on your successes, on the little moments of happiness. A useful technique is to write down three things that made you happy that day. You will soon find that the positive thoughts you nurture will surface more often throughout the day.

I am someone who sets the bar high and strives for perfection. I do this because I need to prove myself and I would feel guilty if I were still not trying to achieve perfection.


Talk about it

Can't shake off your perfectionism? Don't get stuck with it. Talk to someone you trust and with whom you feel comfortable – preferably someone close to you, such as a good friend, your parents, sister or brother.

Are you afraid to talk to someone close to you? Then talk about it with someone who is familiar with similar stories, such as your family doctor or someone from your college or university.

If you prefer to share your story anonymously, contact Awel (102 or awel.be) or Tele-Onthaal (106 or teleonthaal.be). If you have questions about suicide or dark thoughts, you can call the Suicide Line (1813 or suicide1813.be).

Get help

Do you feel like you are not succeeding with the tips? Would you like individual consultation and coaching to find and discover your pitfalls and what you can do to curb your perfectionism?

Then make an appointment with the counselling services at your college or university. They offer various training programmes in which you learn to deal with perfectionism differently. They can often provide individual counselling as well.

Worried about a friend?

Is a friend suffering from perfectionism? If so, talk about it and share your concerns. Try to listen understandingly and without judgment.

Keen to learn, read and hear more about this topic?

Ted Talks


  • Niet perfect, toch tevreden. Hoe je perfectionisme kan ombuigen, Liesbet Boone.
  • De optimalist, leer perfectionisme loslaten, Tal Ben-Sahar
  • Zeg me dat ik oké ben, Marcel Hendrickx
  • Prettig perfect, Sara Backx, Isabelle Vloeberghs