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Atelophobia

What Is It, How It Is Managed, and More

Author: Ali Syed, PharmD

Editors: Ahaana Singh, Lisa Miklush, PhD, RN, CNS

Illustrator: Jillian Dunbar


What is atelophobia?

Atelophobia is the fear of imperfection. It is a specific type of phobia, an anxiety disorder characterized by a persistent and excessive fear of an object or situation. With atelophobia, individuals tend to fear any type of imperfection in their lives. It is an extreme form of perfectionism, leading to various psychological disturbances such as negative self-judgement, anxiety, stress, inadequacy, low self-esteem, and depression. People with atelophobia may set unrealistic goals for themselves, avoid or not complete certain tasks or challenges that could lead them to make mistakes, and may obsess over mistakes they have previously made or think they might make. Due to constant self-judgment and negative self-evaluation, individuals with atelophobia often reinforce their fear of not being good enough. 

How do you pronounce atelophobia?

Atelophobia is pronounced as: a-tel-o-phobia 

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What are the symptoms of atelophobia?

There are many emotional, mental, and physical symptoms of atelophobia. A certain symptom of atelophobia will usually present within the specific circumstances that trigger an individual’s atelophobia. Symptoms are generally uncontrollable and can seem to take over a person’s thoughts. Emotional symptoms may include constant worry, overwhelming fear, inability to deal with mild conflict, burnout, and negative emotional experiences, such as anger, irritability, sadness, disappointment, anxiety, or panic. 

People with atelophobia may also exhibit cognitive symptoms, like the inability to focus on anything apart from their fear, emotional detachment from others, low self-esteem, constant reassurance seeking, extreme disappointment over negligible mistakes, a pessimistic view of life, the tendency to set unrealistic standards for themselves, and notable sensitivity to criticism.

Oftentimes these emotions and mental states can trigger physical symptoms, such as sweating, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, and dry mouth. Additional outcomes may include sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, and restlessness.

How is atelophobia diagnosed and treated?

Since the exact cause of atelophobia may be due to a combination of factors, diagnosis by a mental health professional can include a variety of techniques. Diagnosis is generally based on an individual’s medical, social, and family history. In addition, assessment of symptoms and individual interviews are often used to classify the diagnosis according to the guidelines set forth by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is currently in its 5th Edition (DSM-5).   

In some cases, physical examination, laboratory tests (e.g., blood tests and urine samples), and brain imaging may be conducted in order to rule out other illnesses that could impact an individual’s mental health or that result in similar symptoms to atelophobia (e.g., psychiatric diseases, cancers affecting the brain, and recent trauma). People with atelophobia may also have other coexisting mental health illnesses, such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or substance-related and addictive disorders. In order to manage the associated conditions appropriately, a thorough evaluation from a mental health professional is very important.

The treatment of atelophobia usually depends on the severity of the condition and the medical history of the individual. Typically, atelophobia treatments involve lifestyle changes, psychotherapy, and medications. Lifestyle modifications may include reducing caffeine, increasing physical exercise, and practicing mindfulness through meditation or yoga. These changes are meant to help reduce the emotional, mental, and physical symptoms of atelophobia by increasing focus and productiveness, as well as encouraging positive coping mechanisms and overall health and wellness.

Psychotherapy options commonly involve exposure therapy (ET) or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) under the supervision of a certified mental health professional. During ET, individuals are repeatedly exposed to situations that trigger their atelophobia with the goal of learning to adapt to and better manage these triggers and the associated fear. On the other hand, CBT exposes individuals to situations that could stimulate their fear of imperfection in order to help pinpoint exact triggers and change their emotional and behavioral reactions towards them.  

Depending on an individual’s situation and past treatments, certain medications may also be used to control symptoms of atelophobia. Anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines  (e.g., lorazepam and clonazepam) may help prevent or control symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks. Beta blockers, like propranolol, are another class of medication that may help reduce symptoms of increased heart rate, as well as sweating or dizziness. In some instances, sedatives may help relax and calm the body in triggering situations.

How do people overcome atelophobia?

Overcoming atelophobia is a complex process that takes time and patience. Individuals experiencing symptoms of atelophobia and mental, emotional, or physical distress may consider seeking professional help to address their fear and learn coping mechanisms to better manage triggering situations. Similar to managing other phobias, overcoming atelophobia requires individual cooperation and willingness to explore different treatments or combinations of them, in accordance with professional guidance.

What are the most important facts to know about atelophobia?

Atelophobia is a specific type of phobia characterized by the fear of imperfection, leading to various psychological disturbances. People with atelophobia may set unrealistic goals for themselves with a low tolerance for mistakes, which often results in avoidance of specific situations and reinforcement of the fear of not being good enough. Atelophobia may also consist of a wide range of emotional, mental, and physical symptoms that typically present in specific triggering situations. As the exact cause of atelophobia is unknown and symptoms alone may be non-specific, diagnosis and treatment of atelophobia by a mental health professional is important. Treatment options can include lifestyle changes, exposure therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and in some cases, medications. In general, overcoming atelophobia is not a simple process, but one that requires patience, willingness, and cooperation from the affected individual.

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Related links

Phobias
Panic disorder
Anxiety disorders: Clinical practice
Anticonvulsants and anxiolytics: Benzodiazepines

Resources for research and reference

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Day, P. (2016). Portraying assessment: The fear of never being good enough [PowerPoint presentation].  Plymouth University 5th Annual PedRIO Conference. https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/uploads/production/document/path/6/6516/Plymouth_University_5th_Annual_PedRIO_Conference__.pdf 

Hill, A., & Curran, T. (2016). Multidimensional perfectionism and burnout: A meta-analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 20(3): 269-288. DOI: 10.1177/1088868315596286

Paravati, M. (2015). Atelophobia. Gandy Dancer Archives, 4(1): 35-37.

Sedera, D., & Lokuge, S. (2020). Flaws in flawlessness: Perfectionism as a new technology driven mental disorder [Paper presentation]. Forty-First International Conference on Information Systems, India. https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/2010/2010.12032.pdf 

Transform Psychology. (2020). Atelophobia Counselling. Retrieved December 21, 2020 from https://www.tranceformpsychology.com/phobias/atelophobia.html