In today’s digital world, where all spheres of life happen online and are in open view, perfectionism breaks new ground:

While encouraging authenticity and diversity, some individuals still experience a terrifying fear of imperfection. Known as atelophobia, it paralyzes them from actions, kills digital productivity, or (what’s even worse) makes them talk a good game about their skills, income, and credentials.

In other words, such people sugar up reality online. And it’s not because they want to cheat subscribers, business partners, or potential future employers. (Although such cases take place quite often for sure.) Instead, it can happen because of their irrational fear (phobia) of looking imperfect in the eyes of others.

The flip side of the coin is that atelophobia makes people avoid social and professional activity in the digital world, thus preventing growth and success. They are afraid of looking bad, making or saying something wrong, so they choose to keep silent and do nothing rather than fail. It causes tons of emotional distress and anxiety.

So, it appears that not only can atelophobia diminish our life and well-being, but it can also weaken our health, influencing both physical and mental conditions. These are some of its causes and symptoms, as well as tips on overcoming them in the digital world when it’s close to impossible to live a productive life with no online presence.

What Is Atelophobia?

In plain English, atelophobia is a fear of imperfection in oneself. Some may refer to it as perfectionism, but psychologists and psychoanalysts specify it’s an irrational fear of looking imperfect or making a mistake. Atelophobia makes us feel that everything we do is wrong, “encouraging” us to give up tasks, avoid conversations and challenges, and choose a low-stimulus environment over the risk of failure.

Atelophobia doesn’t go hand in hand with mental conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety disorder, or others. Also, it has nothing to do with character traits like introversion or shyness, for example.  

Unlike other phobias, where external objects or situations trigger, atelophobia’s stimulus comes from within. For example, let’s say I’m afraid of spiders, so I know that everything I can do to avoid this phobia is to go away from them. But if I fear my possible flaws, I take this fear everywhere with me and can’t prevent an anxiety response anyway.

The point I’m trying to drive home:

Atelophobia is quite challenging to diagnose, and some may consider its symptoms nothing but another personality trait. That’s not so. We need to be mindful of this disorder and treat it if necessary to prevent its damaging health effects.

Three Symptoms You May Be an Atelophobe

Atelophobia has both physical and psychological symptoms. The former include:

  • headache
  • muscle tension
  • sweating
  • dry mouth
  • stomach pain
  • shaking
  • hyperventilation
  • nausea

As for the latter, psychological ones, the symptoms are as follows:

  • lack of focus
  • procrastination
  • feelings of powerlessness
  • avoidance
  • extreme anxiety and dread
  • reassurance seeking
  • excessive checking of your work for mistakes
  • indecisiveness
  • fear of losing control

Sure enough, you can’t stick the “I’m atelophobe” label on yourself every time you feel stressed and physically weak. Just be mindful of your behavior and try to use your emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and self-reflection components in particular. Doing so, you may notice the following three symptoms:

1. Your Impossible Standards

Is your motto anything like, “I’d rather do nothing than do it wrong?” Have you mastered all the creative ways to avoid tasks and situations that scare you? Do you often procrastinate at work, waiting for a better moment to complete the job so that it would meet your quality standards? Are you looking for mistakes all the time?

Enormous self-imposed demands may be a symptom of atelophobia. Though self-criticism is OK to practice from time to time, applying your impossible standards to all kinds of situations and putting them off can cause work and personal life problems.

2. Your Terrible Fear of Flaws

Many people are afraid of making mistakes, but there’s a big difference between getting nervous but still doing and skipping a situation entirely in panic. If the latter is your case, you have a problem.

Try to understand how strong your response to the thought of imperfection is. Are you capable of facing and dealing with it when necessary? Sure thing, you may dislike public speaking and get nervous before it; but it’s not your nature but atelophobia that makes you give it up and run in panic and fear you might fail.

3. Your Escape From Everyday Tasks

It may be challenging for some people to make a phone call or talk to others because they are shy. But it’s not shyness that prevents them from writing an email to teachers, a business message to a colleague, or publishing a book: The drafts will never look good enough for them, and they may spend days or months thinking of how they could write it better.

Another example:

You avoid cleaning your room because you know it won’t be clean enough anyway. You escape from meeting a university friend because you judge yourself for not becoming good enough after graduation.

Causes of Atelophobia and Health Problems It Brings

This disorder can be biological, meaning that it’s your genetic propensity to be so sensitive and perfectionistic. But more often than not, it’s a result of some traumatic experiences from childhood or adolescence.

Say my parents were too demanding and requiring perfection from me, encouraging the highest grades only. Or, I faced harsh criticism from teachers and negative comments from peers at school. Any of those situations could become a trigger. After all, no one taught me to tolerate and accept imperfection.

People who compare themselves with others all the time are prone to atelophobia too. It’s especially true in the digital world where we see “successfully successful” people everywhere on social media, applying their success to ourselves. Sure, it’s OK to have a mentor or a role model to inspire you and encourage your self-growth; but moderation is everything here. The constant desire to compare ourselves to others is discouraging. After all, there will always be someone better than us.

Atelophobia brings numerous health problems, leading to headaches, heart attacks, breathing problems, weakened immune system, skin problems such as dehydration and eczemas, diminished sex drive, and more.

Seeking extreme perfection in today’s fast-changing digital world can lead to sleep disorders and memory problems. But apart from physical health, this anxiety destroys our productivity, progress, and success: Remaking everything all the time in the hope of getting better results or giving up the work because “it’s not perfect enough,” we are never satisfied and don’t complete anything.

Can We Do Anything With It?

Atelophobia is not that simple to overcome. As well as in the case with other phobias, it needs treatment such as psychotherapy. A specialist helps us relax and let imperfection in our life.

Exposure therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy are two things that can help to deal with this phobia or, at least, reign in its influence. The former helps confront fears and adapt the mind to react less aggressively; the latter modifies our negative thought patterns and behaviors. 

Energy psychology, meditation, and group therapy can help to overcome atelophobia too.


Atelophobia, aka the irrational fear of imperfection in oneself, can harm personal and professional life, physical and mental health, and overall well-being. Its appearance doesn’t depend on a personality type. But for people with particular inherent qualities, it may become a bigger problem as they can write it off for some common character traits and ignore it.

That’s why it’s critical to be mindful of this problem, listen to our inner selves, and don’t hesitate to ask for professional help when needed. Psychotherapy and meditation can help to manage atelophobia well.

Image Credit: digital-world-atelophobia; thank you!

Lesley Vos

Lesley is a seasoned web writer, specializing in sales copywriting and storytelling. Currently blogging at several educational websites, she also contributes to publications on business, marketing, and self-growth. Follow @LesleyVos on Twitter to see more works of hers.