ADHD and Perfectionism - The Ambivalent Relationship To Success

March 29, 2023
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ADHD and Perfectionism - The Ambivalent Relationship To Success

Perfectionists are not typically associated with people diagnosed with ADHD. They are usually seen as rushing through activities and paying little attention to details. However, some people living with ADHD may be perfectionists. The pressure to achieve perfection can be overwhelming. It may provide difficulties at work, school, or even home. Perfectionism traits can be quite prevalent among women and men with ADHD.

When perfectionism is unhealthy, it exhausts a person as they strive for perfection, which is neither sustainable nor healthy.

Although it may appear as a paradox, ADHD-related perfectionism may be an overcompensation for making careless mistakes or compensating for the sensation of "not being good enough."

Perfectionism: What is it?

Perfectionism by itself it’s not listed as a mental health condition and is rather seen as a personality trait. Some may say this is a survival mechanism to get things done.

However, in some situations, perfectionism can be a trait of an obsessive-compulsive personality or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Perfectionists set incredibly high expectations for themselves. They believe that nothing they accomplish is good enough, feeling stuck in a constant pursuit that may not be enjoyable or sustainable in the long term.

This approach can affect someone’s mental health by developing more severe conditions, such as anxiety, depression, OCD, self-harm, or eating disorders can be possible outcomes. Perfectionists often feel misunderstood by others, or feeling judged.  Even small events can decrease someone’s quality of life and affect their relationships with others, within the family, career, or education.

A cute dog trying to be perfect at the table

The Relationship Between Perfectionism and ADHD

Growing up with ADHD symptoms may make people the target of excessive criticism and punishment. Therefore, developing coping mechanisms such as perfectionism may occur.

Impulsivity and executive disorders make it difficult for them to start tasks, even when they want to. Completing a task and making it perfect, can be an extra burden to the existing procrastinating behaviours seen in ADHD.  The person can become frustrated and ashamed due to feeling helpless in controlling their life.

Perfectionism can be a coping mechanism to validate yourself and demonstrate that you aren't unreliable, unmotivated, or lack discipline.

A solid chain with the sunrise in one of the links signifying hope

ADHD Perfectionism: The Constant Search for Perfection

Many people diagnosed with ADHD are sometimes described as having disorganized homes, being clumsy, and making careless mistakes. These characteristics are typically linked to inattention, and hyperactivity, and are symptoms seen during an ADHD assessment.

The problem is that when someone with ADHD is viewed as "clumsy" or "messy," it might create conflicting emotions and feelings that could lead to unfavourable thoughts and a more pronounced ADHD struggle.

Specific chores may be impossible to complete when someone suffers from ADHD due to feelings of guilt and shame.  Or simply because they received unfavourable feedback in the past and worry they will fall short.

Additionally, the desire to disprove those who frequently criticize them for having ADHD can be a short-term motivator to work harder. They may initially feel discouraged from giving their best, but ultimately they strive for perfection in everything they do.

A working lightbulb amongst many broken lightbulbs

Cons of having perfectionism traits

1) Unsustainable expectations

Perfectionism comes with high costs. When their high expectations aren't met, it can lead to procrastination, anxiety, failure-related thoughts, a lack of drive, negative feelings about themselves and life, irritation, anger, stress, and a sense of not feeling good enough.

Because they don't want to do something unless they know it will be perfect, it can also prevent them from doing activities they might otherwise love. Their life quality may be affected by perfectionism. They will have less time to engage in hobbies, spend time with loved ones, or unwind if they work on a task 10 times longer to ensure it is perfect.

2) Extremely critical

Unfortunately, both perfectionism and ADHD have several drawbacks. First of all, perfectionists can be frequently critical. They often hold themselves to such high standards, continuously criticizing their looks, performance, and skills. Unfortunately, this criticism can frequently include those close to them as well.

Overly critical tendencies can be draining and discouraging. They are always aware of defects in themselves. Consequently, they believe they must put an endless effort to address all the problems they find a fault with.

They demand and anticipate the same behavior from those around them. This can lower the morale and impair the efforts of others including family, friends, or team members.

A ballerina sitting on tiptoes trying to be perfect

Positive perfectionism characteristics

1) Reliable and Dependable

Perfectionists have such a strong desire to succeed that they cannot bear to believe they failed to complete something. This means that a perfectionist might be someone you can rely on, even during the most challenging times.

They are more motivated on the job, work longer hours, and find solutions at the last minute when others may struggle. At the same time, they like to be treated back with the same level of reliability and respect.

2) Driven and diligent

Together with ADHD and perfectionism, many perfectionists also exhibit motivation and a commitment to excellence. Once more, their drive to succeed makes them overcome obstacles and find solutions. Above everything else, they prioritize success, putting all their effort into doing so.

In general, perfectionists have trouble relaxing or taking a break. Their minds often race constantly, just like those with ADHD. When they try to relax, they instead consider the tasks they still have to complete or have already completed. Most perfectionists, instead of actually relaxing then, constantly work on something.

3) Higher standards

Perfectionists suffering from ADHD, have higher standards compared with almost everyone. When their work ethic is combined with a passion, they will often excel in situations where others would struggle. The journey begins when they need to accept that others, may not be able to sustain their standards. And when this is achieved, they can eventually become exceptional leaders.

Thumbs up in a purple colored background

How Can Perfectionist Behaviour Cause Anxiety?

Perfectionism can make people anxious because it makes them obsessive about whether they are living up to their high ideals. They will begin to feel anxious about making mistakes as they contemplate whether they will succeed in realizing these personal goals. As people worry more, they can feel tension and anxiety rising. This may also occur when someone is diagnosed with ADHD and now they are becoming more aware of their careless mistakes.

As a result of the need to be perfect, these unfavorable thought patterns develop into habits. Being fixated to be flawless might cause someone to lose concentration, be less aware of how they handle their emotions, and produce unsustainable coping mechanisms. For example, the anxious perfectionist may exacerbate the situation by dwelling on previous errors and worrying about mistakes that may occur in the future.

Procrastination and persistent avoidance behaviors are common in perfectionists and can worsen situations. Perfectionists are almost certainly more likely to experience higher anxiety when placed in demanding circumstances.

Anxious person thinking late at night in the office


Some people may strive for perfectionism to hide their ADHD symptoms, while others may have experienced severe judgement and feel the need to prove themselves constantly.

Perfectionism can be a quality to aspire to, and most of the time it is not seen as a condition or a diagnosis. The person needs to remind that perfection is not sustainable, and from there, is only one way down which can be interpreted as failure.

Looking at ADHD and perfectionism from other people's views can be challenging. One way to understand someone suffering from these traits is with curiosity and compassion.

Considering improving the symptoms of ADHD and perfectionism is possible but this often requires professional support and long-term therapy.

A long road suggesting conclusions

Book private support for ADHD

If you're resonating with the struggles of ADHD and perfectionism outlined in this blog, you may be wondering if an assessment might be the next step. Dr Ivantu, a Private Consultant Psychiatrist offers accurate ADHD assessments and treatment tailored to understand your unique experiences. No more feeling misunderstood or lost in the system.

Here's how to take control:

Visit our assessment page and find out everything about the process: Private Adult ADHD Assessment | ADHD Specialist


Adult ADHD and emerging models of maladaptive personality: a meta-analytic review - PMC (

Impact of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) symptoms in Internet users - PMC (

Assessment of the relationship between self-reported cognitive distortions and adult ADHD, anxiety, depression, and hopelessness - PubMed (

Disclaimer: The information is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content, and information, contained in this article are for general information purposes only and do not replace a consultation with your own doctor/health professional

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