Atelophobia, or the fear of imperfection, is one of many mental health conditions that can negatively impact a person’s life. Like with many other phobias, atelophobia can often be treated so that people with the condition can lead better lives with less mental anguish.
What Is Atelophobia?
People who experience atelophobia have an extreme fear of imperfection. This constant fear of imperfection can cause people with the condition to avoid many situations in life where they might make mistakes. Atelophobia often leads to persistent feelings of anxiety, frustration, and loneliness.
In addition to present and future mistakes, those who struggle with atelophobia often dwell on past mistakes they might have made. They might feel particularly hopeless knowing that they can’t correct past errors and may also feel a great sense of shame if they believe that the consequences of the mistakes have caused long-term problems.
Atelophobia shares some characteristics with other mental health conditions, and a therapist should be the one to diagnose atelophobia instead of relying on self-diagnosis or another unreliable source. Other mental disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or panic disorder, can accompany atelophobia and may worsen the effects of the condition.
How Atelophobia Differs from Perfectionism
Some people who always strive for excellence and try to avoid making mistakes are often considered to be perfectionists, but this is different from people who have atelophobia. While perfectionism is a personality trait, atelophobia is a documented psychological disorder and a true phobia that causes a person to have overwhelming fears of mistakes. Perfectionists generally aren’t afraid to engage in life, but atelophobia sufferers tend to avoid many aspects of life because of the overwhelming dread of imperfection.
How Atelophobia Differs from Atychiphobia
Atychiphobia is another mental health condition that has some similarities to atelophobia, but there are some clear distinctions between the two disorders. Atychiphobia involves the fear of failure, but people with this condition are usually still willing to engage in many aspects of life and risk making mistakes. Atelophobia, on the other hand, often causes sufferers to avoid many life situations altogether because of the extreme fear of making mistakes in the first place.
What Causes Atelophobia?
Past mistakes that resulted in a lot of emotional trauma can contribute to the onset of atelophobia. Some people can also develop the condition if any past mistakes resulted in serious consequences, such as severe injury, financial hardship, or the loss of a job.
If someone was pressured to be perfect while growing up, they could also develop atelophobia at some point in life. The feeling of having to excel in school, sports, or other activities as a child and the fear of the consequences that could be faced for making errors could cause a person to obsess about perfection and develop a phobia of mistakes.
Abuse that results from making mistakes is another known cause of atelophobia. The abuse may have been physical, mental, or a combination of both and caused serious psychological trauma.
Atelophobia is additionally linked to biological factors that a person has from birth. Atelophobia, like other phobias, can result from chemical imbalances or other biological anomalies that are sometimes inherited from family members. Anyone with a family history of atelophobia or other mental health problems has an increased chance of experiencing the condition.
Symptoms of Atelophobia
Symptoms of atelophobia are often similar to those of other mental health conditions. In addition to persistent anxiety, atelophobia often causes feelings of sadness, anger, and frustration. People with this condition also sometimes have difficulty being criticized by other people and can have a generally negative view of life. The inability to concentrate on anything other than the fear of imperfection is another common trait of atelophobia.
Physical symptoms of atelophobia can include excessive sweating and shortness of breath because of overwhelming fear. Nausea and trembling can also occur. Disruptive sleep patterns often develop because of atelophobia. Some people with the condition also experience heart palpitations, which often feel like the heart is racing, pounding, or beating off its normal rhythm.
Unhealthy Life Patterns
Atelophobia can sometimes cause a person to alter their life and adopt unhealthy lifestyle patterns to try to cope with this condition. In addition to avoiding many situations in life entirely, a person with atelophobia may put off doing important things over the fear of making mistakes, and this could lead to more challenges both socially and professionally. Atelophobia can also cause a person to check for mistakes excessively and spend a lot of time looking for errors instead of taking care of other important things in life.
This mental health condition can also impact a person’s self-confidence greatly. Atelophobia can hinder the ability to make decisions, and a person with this condition may always feel a need to seek reassurance from others. The lack of self-confidence can be particularly detrimental in school or the workplace, and opportunities to excel academically or pursue better career options may be missed if atelophobia interferes.
A person might even turn to drugs or alcohol to try to cope with the mental anguish of atelophobia. Any phobia that causes a lot of mental and emotional distress can sometimes lead sufferers to engage in self-harm.
Fortunately, atelophobia doesn’t have to be a major struggle for the rest of a person’s life, and treatment for the condition often yields promising outcomes. Even though the condition may not be entirely cured, a good therapist can try different methods to reduce the effects of atelophobia and may recommend certain treatment options based on a person’s specific symptoms and the severity of the condition.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
The goal of CBT is to change the way the mind thinks and feels about certain situations so that a person can adopt healthier behaviors. This form of psychotherapy can be especially helpful for people who struggle with irrational fears of imperfection because of atelophobia and can help these individuals develop a more realistic mindset.
During a CBT session, the therapist will ask questions and encourage the person who is receiving therapy to share their thoughts. The therapist will try to identify specific unhealthy thoughts and thinking patterns that may need to be challenged to lessen their effects. The therapist will also try to instill better thought patterns and work through irrational thoughts and feelings with the goal of treating atelophobia or at least reducing its severity.
The therapist may additionally assign homework to try to help the person with atelophobia achieve an even better outcome. This homework often involves keeping a journal to record thoughts and feelings. Additional exercises to try to replace negative thoughts and behaviors with healthier ones are usually included in CBT homework assignments.
Exposure therapy involves asking the participant to confront their fearful thoughts and behaviors with controlled exposure to them. The exposure may be gradual or done on a more intense level (flooding). When the thoughts and behaviors are being confronted, the therapist will take every measure possible to keep the person safe and avoid inflicting additional emotional distress.
As distressing thoughts and behaviors are confronted, they generally start to lose their effect and become less troubling to the person who experiences them. The person who suffers from atelophobia will also likely start to realize that their perceived fears are irrational the more they are exposed to them.
When the mind and body are calm, the effects of atelophobia may be less. Therapists often recommend certain relaxation exercises to try to put the mind and body into a better state. Relaxation exercises that may work well for treating atelophobia include:
- Deep breathing
- Progressive muscle relaxation
Medication is sometimes recommended to try to alleviate symptoms of atelophobia and can be particularly effective if a person suffers from the condition because of biological factors. Antianxiety and antidepressant medicines can yield promising results and help sufferers of atelophobia find relief. Sedatives, which help calm the body and mind, can also help. Beta-blockers, which control heart rate and reduce blood pressure, may additionally relieve some of the physical symptoms of the condition.
Atelophobia may be a life-long struggle for some people, but the condition doesn’t have to dominate a person’s existence entirely. By recognizing the condition and getting the proper help, atelophobia can be addressed better so that the fear of imperfection will no longer seem to be as big of a threat.