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What is Atelophobia?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Atelophobia is a condition in which an individual exhibits an extreme fear of failing to achieve perfection in any of their actions, ideas, or beliefs. This highly sensitized and fearful aversion to any type of imperfection can cause people to become highly critical of anything they say or do, always fearing that their offerings are flawed and not good enough. The fear of imperfection goes far beyond wanting to do things as competently as possible; in cases where there is a true phobia, the condition becomes an obsession that effectively ruins relationships and makes it almost impossible to function in society.

As with a number of phobias, people who develop atelophobia are often highly intelligent and possess many talents and capabilities. Unlike many people who measure their competency in relation to others with similar talents, the true atelophobic sets a standard for perfection that is impossible to reach. Because of this impossible personal standard, an individual suffering with this condition will constantly be attempting to refine, rework or improve something that is already highly regarded by those around them.

Symptoms of this phobia include a high degree of irrational irritability aimed at the self and sometimes manifested toward others. The atelophobic is often so scared of failing to measure up that he or she becomes immobilized by the fear and is unable to complete projects or will not turn them in for fear they are not good enough. A high degree of excitability is common, as well as insomnia and an inability to relax for even a couple of moments. The patient is constantly on edge and feels pressure to continue working until perfection is reached.

Owing to the complexity of the factors that go into the condition, a psychologist or therapist is needed to truly identify and define atelophobia. The therapist can help the patient come to terms with this irrational fear of failing to achieve perfection and find ways to reverse the tendency. As part of the course of treatment, the therapist may recommend the use of anti-anxiety medication in order to assist the patient to relax for brief periods. Ongoing therapy is helpful in restoring a balance to life that does not eliminate the positive aspects of competition or stifle the creativity of the individual. Instead, the frustration of failing to be perfect is replaced with a sense of accomplishment for a job well done that is worthy of admiration by everyone, including the individual who envisioned and completed the task.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum , Writer
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including The Health Board, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.

Discussion Comments

By anon993669 — On Dec 03, 2015

I am sure I have this. My fears are taking over and now I am lost. I have run all my friends out of my life, cut out most family other than the ones living here at home. I always feel worthless, then usually later I see why. I can't change and no one can live being around me -- hell, even me.

By anon990535 — On Apr 26, 2015

I don't know if I have this or not, or if it is just my mind which wants to lean on to something to support the bad state it is in, breakup and then fitting into a new job, targets and pressure. If something is in my reach and I can get it complete, then I won't look at the time, but I am lazy and that's the main reason for me pushing myself.

I am hard to please, I am afraid of losing, I am afraid of people calling me a failure. I get disheartened and sometime I sulk for weeks. I make up entire scenes that can happen when I am going for a meeting where I know I will be screwed. If I see a mistake in my work, I believe it will be seen by others and in turn I keep praying that no one notices. The pressure is immense.

But I am not aiming for perfection. My car is a mess, my room is a mess. My life, too. It's only when I want to sort it that I take things in hand or else I can let it be.

By anon341655 — On Jul 13, 2013

This is the problem nowadays. There is a name for every kind of problem a person faces on a daily basis or at least at one time or another. So what do we do? We prescribe drugs for it. No wonder insurance costs are astronomical.

By anon341371 — On Jul 11, 2013

There are some good resources online. I believe I'm an atelophobic because of the characteristics listed. And yes, atelophobia can cause depression.

By anon293261 — On Sep 24, 2012

I know I am a perfectionist, but I don't think I'm bad enough to say I have atelophobia. I hate that I'm this way because people say I'm hard to please or just be around. I'm working on this problem.

However, I do want to say I believe a person can have atelophobia and be overweight. Also, I think people need to recognize the difference between atelophobia and anorexia or bulimia. --Chels

By anon263558 — On Apr 24, 2012

Yes, it actually can lead to depression but you should go check with a doctor first before assuming anything.

By anon219080 — On Oct 01, 2011

I think I may have this. All my life all I've had was grades and school, I was never popular and (guess what) I have almost always been overweight.

Lately I've been working out and dieting to lose weight, so now I'm scared as hell when I know I'm being graded or judged on a performance, so I freeze up because I don't want to fail or be judged harshly. I also tend to have intense spouts of depression when I look back on past muck ups or ones that have happened recently. Is this considered atelophobia? To reply just say @Eli

By anon172801 — On May 05, 2011

to: anon153955: You can be fat. Seriously. You really can. Some people are fat/bigger because of their depression. (If you don't know what I'm talking about,ask a doctor about it).

By anon153956 — On Feb 18, 2011

Being atelophobic is not the same thing as being a perfectionist.

By anon153955 — On Feb 18, 2011

Atelophobia is found mostly in people who suffer anorexia/bulimia, but it could also apply to people who work out like crazy to attain that perfect body. Here's the kicker. You will never see a fat atelophobic. people with atelophobia would never let that happen to themselves, especially with such a problem with imperfection.

By anon145292 — On Jan 22, 2011

I know I am alteophobic when it comes to beauty. I also have sleeping problems, but I don't think I have it simply for one thing.

By anon144741 — On Jan 20, 2011

I believe my daughter also has this, having read the classic symptoms and has also developed an eating disorder. It's difficult to find help getting a diagnosis when some GPs know very little about the condition. I worry constantly about her health and state of mind. She has an appointment with a counselor next week. I hope she finds the strength to discuss her problems.

By anon142523 — On Jan 13, 2011

i believe i have it. i don't know. it's hard to actually come out and say it. I am anorexic, I'm about 94 pounds, 5'3" and I'm 19. lately I've been in a really bad depression. and a huge procrastinator.

By anon41496 — On Aug 15, 2009

i was diagnosed with atelophobia 4 months ago, but the funny thing is i'm a male anorexic with borderline personality disorder. i'm always telling myself "push a little more. you know you've got to be perfect." sad day when a healthy boy grows up to be 5 foot 9 and weights 98 pounds. atelophobia is no joke.

By anon40784 — On Aug 10, 2009

what is difference between a perfectionist and an atelophobic?

By anon39839 — On Aug 04, 2009

I also have it. I usually can stay up for days until I absolutely need sleep. I have also developed anorexia.

By anon39060 — On Jul 30, 2009

i have this and recently i have developed a slight case of anorexia. i can go a full two days on only three hours of sleep. when i have a big project for school, i procrastinate until about two days before it's due, then stay up all night working on it so i get full credit.

By anon38870 — On Jul 29, 2009

I beilieve that this is the disorder I have. Everything in this article describes the complete and utter pressure and anxiety I feel when it comes to writing a paper in school or doing an art project.

I also have isomnia, and I often stay home from school because I have a paper to hand in that I'm not done tweaking, and it's just not good enough.

I don't want to be seeing a therapist though. Are there any effective self-help ways?

By anon37521 — On Jul 20, 2009

Well, I am studying about Alteophobia because I am interested in it and in order to write my cause and effect essay. Therefore, is there any studying about the effects of it?

By anon37461 — On Jul 19, 2009

Wouldn't everyone have a slight case of this at sometime or another? I am like that about some things anyway

By anon37269 — On Jul 18, 2009

I have it, and I am being put on anti-depressants. But I don't know, it could be different for other people. I also developed anorexia.

By anon36681 — On Jul 14, 2009

does this kind of phobia ultimately lead to depression?

Malcolm Tatum

Malcolm Tatum


Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
Learn more
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