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Fear of Imperfection, AKA Atelophobia

The etymology of “atelophobia” comes from the Greek atelophobia, a word composed of atelés (meaning imperfect, incomplete) and phóbos (or fear, phobia) and it means fear of imperfection.  A large number of people suffer from atelophobia, a constant feeling of imperfection and inadequacy.

Discontent with one’s own aesthetic appearance, search for a perfection that does not exist, fear of never being up to it. For most people these feelings only come and go, they are not that serious.

However, sometimes these fears become obsessive. It is then that you may be affected by the syndrome of atelophobia. This syndrome translates into a constant sense of inadequacy, imperfection, anguish that can have an important impact on several aspects of personal and social life.

Atelophobia is not just a simple discomfort or dissatisfaction with one’s physical appearance. It is a real phobia that causes different symptoms, sometimes so serious that would need medical attention, such as panic, anxiety, depression, tachycardia, and difficulty breathing. A series of symptoms that can make life really difficult.

In a society like ours where appearence is considered fundamental to achieve success, those who suffer from some discomfort related to a distorted perception of themselves can live personal and professional relationships in a difficult way. They would try to correct a defect, and then move on to another, and yet another, in a search for exhausting and never achieved perfection.

The atelophobic person is always worried that whatever they do is wrong, and that they may make mistakes with disastrous consequences.

The typical phrases of those suffering from atelophobia are:

  • “I can’t make mistakes”;
  • “There will be very serious consequences for my mistakes”;
  • “I have no hope of getting where I want”;
  • “Something will surely stand in my way, regardless of my will.”

Atelophobia manifests itself in all areas of the person’s life, making even daily tasks extremely difficult.

Atelophobia at work

Making a phone call, writing an email or speaking in front of a group are tasks that may become difficult, or even impossible.

Atelophobic people are convinced that they do not have the means to succeed with their goals, they always feel undervalued, they do not think they are up to the job, refusing work assignments and career advancements.

Therefore, they tend to repeat the same task in search of perfection and at the expense of one’s own productivity and creativity. In this way, the atelophobic person is enormously penalized, and in the most serious cases, they can be “paralysed” in their work.

Some tips for a new lifestyle

Changes in the lifestyle bring benefits, helping to engage in activities not related to performance, such as:

  • read a good book;
  • meet friends;
  • listen to music;
  • practise meditation.

I think that I am bit atelophobic, even though not to the extent of having all those diseases listed before. For instance, when I write an email for my work, I read it so many times because I want it to be perfect!

What about you? Do you consider yourself a bit atelophobic? In which way?

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14 thoughts on “Fear of Imperfection, AKA Atelophobia

  1. I can see the words hit the alarm bell…. The issue is we tend to make perfect steps but we hardly move in the fear of things getting wrong. Nice one and it helps me locate where I am.

  2. Thank you, Cristiana, for sharing this informative post. Until just now, I had been unaware of the term “atelophobia.”

    I think that our modern society can be a breeding ground of such behaviour, because we’ve been conditioned to believe we are competing.

    With regard to my writing, I know that I certainly desired it to be “perfect.” Again, our conditioning tells us that if mistakes are obvious, our work won’t be considered by publishers, etc. I once believed that I would find mistakes during every rewrite, and as certainly as I believed…there they were. I finally had to learn to let go and say, “this is good enough.” Fear of imperfection, would keep the work hidden in a drawer.

    Thanks again. I’ll be looking forward to your next post!

    1. ‘…. because we’ve been conditioned to believe we are competing.’
      You nailed it. Because we HAVE been conditioned to compete from such a young age. I still have a memory of failing to get that coveted patch in the “Presidential Physical Fitness” program in elementary school. No, I didn’t want a trophy just for competing, but some form of debriefing might have prevented it from permanently imprinting on my brain as a character flaw.

      1. You’re an excellent writer, Cristiana! I enjoy your posts very much, and I would even if a comma or a capital was missing! 🙂

      2. You’re welcome! Thank you! It’s literally “all good” for all of us. Acceptance and sharing….

  3. What a great way to put a lens on our desire to be perfect. I feel like I’ve read some research that says that as women we might tend to suffer from this more. I think Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection has done wonders for me in helping let this go!

    1. Yes, women suffer more from this syndrome. I didn’t know that book by Berne Brown and I am not surprised that it helped you with that. She is great!

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