What is Atelophobia?

Atelophobia falls under the giant umbrella of anxiety disorders that are recognized by the American Psychology Association. It is characterized by individuals having an irrational fear of being imperfect in others’ eyes.

The term atelophobia derives from two Greek words, atelo(s), which translates to ‘imperfect’ in English and phobia, meaning ‘fear’. Patients who are diagnosed with this condition are referred to as atelophobic.

Overview of atelophobia

In general, atelophobics are particularly preoccupied with a debilitating fear of being imperfect. While this obsession with perfection may lead observers to dismiss an atelophobic as having a neurotic or perfectionist personality, fear is the main distinguishing factor.

What do atelophobics fear the most?

Atelophobics typically fear the following the most:

  • Criticism
  • Failure
  • Being Ostracized from society

Here’s a quick glance into the life of an atelophobic

Atelophobics continuously believe that a mistake is bound to happen when they are put in charge of the task at hand, no matter how simple or complex the undertaking may be.

Even the most mundane of activities induce fear and feelings of insecurity. Examples include driving, taking a walk, eating at the dinner table, or writing a school essay, just to name a few examples.

Life is perceived as a constant test where 10/10 of the questions must be answered correctly – 100% of the time.

Symptoms of Atelophobia

Atelophobia patients often have a distorted sense of reality. When false perceptions consume the patient’s daily life, the end result is usually clinical depression and interventions are necessary for preventing self-harm.

Imagine constantly being in fear that employers, parents, family and friends are continuously judging you for not measuring up to their high expectations. Such is the thought pattern of the atelophobic patient – even though in reality, this isn’t the case.

In addition to depression, some of the other telltale signs that a person is suffering from atelophobia include:

Observers: Check for regular insinuations of self-doubt.

The repercussions of atelophobia

Psychologists have studied atelophobics in-depth and have come to identify that the majority of patients share a common thread:

Atelophobics set out to be perfect at whatever they are doing. While aiming to be good isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, when irrational fears take over and it begins to affect daily life, interventions are recommended.

The Correlation between atelophobia and other mental health disorders

Psychologists have also conducted a series of comparisons with similar mental disorders and have found that people with atelophobia frequently suffer from anorexia and bulimia.

Other risks include:

Physical repercussions of atelophobia

Atelophobia may also manifest itself into physical symptoms that affect the patient’s physical health. It is no secret that chronic stress can cause ailments, like cardiovascular disease (heart disease). It is therefore important to get the symptoms, namely fear, under control.

The many faces of atelophobia

There are two types of atelophobics, each experiencing negative repercussions in everyday life. They include:

Maladaptive atelophobics

Relationships: Most atelophobics struggle with fitting into society. Their relationships suffer a great deal due to them having a warped view of what others may or may not be thinking.

Career: A lot of atelophobics remain in entry-level positions where job duties remain consistent. Responsibilities are often dodged out of fear of failure.

Take for example the following scenario:

A gifted artist – In this example, we highlight an atelophobic named John who has a real knack for painting impressive art pieces. John’s family recognized his artistic abilities from a tender age and encouraged him to pursue this hobby. In adulthood, John often finds himself getting lost in this pastime and creates several works of art. Due to the fear of being imperfect, however, these are kept secret and never shown to the world. He worries that others will criticize him. Upon deliberation of turning the hobby into a business, John revisits the painting time and again to achieve his own elusive perfection – but never achieves it in the end.

High-functioning atelophobics

On the other end of the spectrum are atelophobics who don’t necessarily experience the setbacks of a failed relationship or stagnant career. However, they suffer in other ways.

Psychologists refer to these atelophobics as being in a persistent state of distress, emotionally speaking. These are people who are characterized as being obsessive compulsive, neat freaks, and the Type A personalities of our society. They do whatever it takes to attain the degree of perfection formulated in their minds. These atelophobics exhibit peculiar behaviors that are often shunned in society.

For example, he or she may:

Clean obsessively

To ensure the surfaces are 100% sanitized in their point of view.

Hoard compulsively

To make sure they have more than enough to meet the needs of the family, for example.

Atelophobia Causes

While other mental disorders are caused by a mix of genetic and environmental factors, most experts believe that atelophobia is, in large part, the result of one’s own life experiences. In particular, atelophobia can be exacerbated by:

Environmental causes include:


Our society rewards people who are perceived as perfect and shuns those who aren’t.


Parental styles differ largely across the board. However, parental attitudes may negatively affect the state of the child’s mental health in some cases. Children who are regularly criticized or compared to more successful peers may adopt a mentality that they are going to always fail at what they set out to do. The child of a perfectionist parent, for example, may have the notion that they will never live up to their mother’s or father’s high expectations and these feelings may worsen over time.

Educational background

Consider an already sensitive child with a perfectionist personality attending boarding school. What happens when this said child is punished for not meeting the mark on a consistent basis? This educational background may increase the child’s propensity to developing atelophobia in adulthood.

Traumatic events

Some studies suggest that atelophobics draw on past negative life experiences that resulted in failure. They believe if it happened once, the failure is sure to happen yet again.

Psychological causes

Some individuals have innate personality traits that help to tip the scale in atelophobia’s favor. People who are highly sensitive, worrisome, and often pegged as “nervous nellies” are more predisposed to atelophobia when other factors like negative life experiences come into play.

Biological causes

Some experts believe that the adrenal gland is responsible for kicking certain psychiatric disorders into overdrive, including atelophobia. The adrenal gland regulates how we react to stress (our flight or fight response). When it isn’t working optimally, it is labeled as adrenal insufficiency.

Treatments for Atelophobia

To treat atelophobia, a qualified psychologist must first analyze the patient to determine if the person is truly suffering from nonstop fear of not being good enough to the people around them.

Along with scaling fear levels, there are a number of tools that mental health experts may use to determine the degree of perfection the patient strives for. These include:

A. The multidimensional perfectionism scale – developed in 1990 by Robert Frost. Other monikers for this scale include the Frost Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale and FMPS.

The scale measures six factors, including:

  1. Fear of making a mistake
  2. Target of perfection
  3. Sensitivity to a parent’s viewpoint
  4. Fear of not living up to parental expectations
  5. Skepticism of their capabilities
  6. Inclination to order

Other common scales used in the field include the:

  • Almost Perfect Scale-Revised (APS-R)
  • Dyadic Almost Perfect Scale
  • Family Almost Perfect Scale

Once a diagnosis is made, a treatment plan of action is created. The recommended treatment for atelophobia includes:

Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medicines

These drugs aid in relaxation and assist patients in carrying out a relatively normal life. It is important to note that there isn’t an indicated or approved prescription medicine for atelophobia. Mental health professionals, therefore, aim to treat and manage the symptoms, like anxiety or depression.

Therapies include:

There are however, many therapies that can be implemented to alter the patient’s ingrained thought patterns. These include:

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Psychologists teach patients to recognize negative and illogical points of view and create strategies to tune into a more positive mindset.

Psychoanalytic therapy

Ttherapists conduct an in-depth study of the underlying reasons why patients are atelophobic and address these root causes with him or her.

Group therapy

Therapists pool together atelophobics with similar traits in an effort to teach them that they’re not alone in this fight.

Humanistic therapy

Instead of focusing on the negative habits of the atelophobic, humanistic therapy aims to shed a spotlight on all the positive achievements made in the past and present to boost self-confidence and self-worth.


Many psychologists encourage atelophobics to set aside some alone time each evening to complete an honest introspection of oneself. Through journaling, patients can backtrack or see their progress and monitor their thoughts and feelings – one day at a time.

Note: most psychologists will combine anti-anxiety or depression medicines with customized therapies for the best results.

Atelophobia Prevention

In order to prevent atelophobia, one should examine the causes first. We know that environmental factors play a large role in the onset of the disorder.

As a result, here are some steps to take if you are a parent or loved one of someone with a perfectionist personality trait:

What to do in childhood?

While blaming the parent may be the first instinct of many, including a newly diagnosed sufferer, it’s important to remember that most parents have well-meaning intentions when guiding and correcting us through life. In addition, one’s childhood and home life cannot be singled out as the root cause of atelophobia. As discussed earlier, genetic and biologic factors can trigger the symptoms of atelophobia – and it normally progresses over time.

One of the preventative techniques that health care experts recommend is for soon-to-be and existing parents to take credible parenting classes in order to figure out responses to precarious situations throughout childhood – like getting a report card or attending a game. Parenting classes help to alter responses in a positive way. In turn, good feedback builds up a child’s confidence and teaches them that disappointments are a natural part of life.

What to do in adulthood?

Atelophobia can become apparent at any time during childhood or adulthood. If you are just learning about this condition and have tendencies to strive for perfection at all times, it’s important to check for signs of anxiety taking over your life.

Consult with a psychologist if needed – before fear spirals out of control. Another preventative technique is to journal and reread these musings every now and again. If you notice any irrational fears being excessively repeated on paper, a mental health expert may be able to help you change these negative thought patterns.

As with most mental health disorders, atelophobia is hard to diagnose and treat. The management of this condition has yet to be perfected and psychologists [3] are learning more about it with each passing day. Armed with this knowledge, however, atelophobics can recognize what has been happening all along and finally take back control through professional intervention.

Last Reviewed:
September 25, 2017
Last Updated:
October 03, 2018
Content Source:
  • American Psychological Association - The many faces of perfectionism
  • Adrenal Insufficiency United - Understanding Adrenal Insufficiency
  • Psychology Today - Perfectionism