Naomi Carr
Author: Naomi Carr Medical Reviewer: Morgan Blair Last updated:

Atelophobia is a specific phobia that causes the individual to experience an intense and extreme fear of imperfections. It can cause significant impacts on functioning and quality of life. Effective treatment for atelophobia may include therapy, medication, and self-care techniques.


What is atelophobia?

Atelophobia is the fear of imperfections, being imperfect, or making mistakes. It can cause extreme worry and the avoidance of social and professional situations for fear of making mistakes, disappointing others, or being judged. Because of this, it can cause significant impairments in functioning [1][2].

Atelophobia is likely to occur alongside other mental health symptoms or conditions, such as other anxiety disorders, depression, OCD, PTSD, or substance use disorders. Atelophobia may appear to be very similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The two are separate conditions, although they can co-occur [1][3].

Atelophobia is not specifically mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) but is considered a specific phobia. A specific phobia is a type of anxiety disorder that causes extreme and irrational fear due to a particular stimulus, which may be a person, place, situation, or object [3].

There is currently limited available research into the diagnosis and treatment of atelophobia. However, research is available about perfectionism as a personality trait and specific phobias in general. Further research is required to better understand atelophobia and the development of specific phobias [1][4].

Symptoms of atelophobia

The symptoms of atelophobia may differ from person to person but typically include [1][3][4][5][6]:

  • Imagining or remembering occasions in which the individual made a mistake can cause them to feel intense anxiety.
  • An extreme fear of making a mistake in future situations.
  • Avoidance of situations that are unknown or may be challenging for fear of mistakes or failure.
  • Procrastinating or avoiding work due to potential mistakes.
  • Experiencing anxietyattacks because of this fear, including physical sensations such as rapid heart rate, sweating, dry mouth, breathing difficulties, impaired concentration, dizziness, and nausea.
  • Being obsessed or overly concerned with perfection.
  • Constantly worrying about past and future performances and accomplishments, analyzing potential errors.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • High sensitivity to criticism.
  • Holding themselves to high expectations.
  • Struggling to let go of past mistakes or imperfections, dwelling on these circumstances long after the event.
  • Often being very self-critical and self-judgmental.
  • Impairments in personal, professional, or social functioning.
  • Additional phobias, such as fear of flying or fear of clowns.
  • May experience high levels of stress, symptoms of depression, insomnia, and other anxiety disorders.

Causes of atelophobia

There is no specific cause of atelophobia. Specific phobias often develop due to several contributing risk factors, including past experiences and genetics.


Studies show that individuals with a family history of anxiety disorders or specific phobias may be more likely to develop atelophobia or other specific phobias [7]. Similarly, personality traits, including perfectionism, have been found to be influenced by genetic factors, thus suggesting further heritability for the development of atelophobia [8].


In addition to genetic factors, individuals living with parents or family members with these conditions or personality traits may be more likely to develop similar symptoms due to exposure. For example, a child with a perfectionist parent may witness and learn the same traits and attitudes. As such, genetic and environmental factors are likely to influence atelophobia development concurrently [5][9].


Specific phobias can develop in response to traumatic experiences. For example, someone may develop atelophobia if they were ridiculed or punished for mistakes as a child, causing a negative emotional response to future errors [4][5].

Pressure to achieve

A fear of imperfection or obsession with perfection may develop due to the individual’s own or external pressures to achieve. For example, the individual or their parents may place great importance on academic achievements, thereby holding themselves to very high and potentially unattainable standards [1][6].

What triggers atelophobia?

Atelophobia is triggered by real, perceived, or potential imperfections, so it may occur in situations such as the following [1][3][6]:

  • When faced with an upcoming event: The individual may be anticipating a forthcoming social or professional event in which they must demonstrate a skill or accomplishment. This could cause them to become extremely fearful and anxious that they won’t be good enough or will disappoint others.
  • When considering past mistakes: It is common for people with atelophobia to dwell on past mistakes and imperfections. As such, they may continue to judge and criticize themselves long after the occurrence, which could cause extreme worry or anxietyattacks and increase fears of repeating these mistakes.
  • When making a mistake: If an individual with atelophobia makes a mistake, they may instantly experience severe anxiety andanxiety They could feel that they have disappointed others or themselves and may struggle to continue due to being overwhelmed by their anxieties.

Diagnosing atelophobia

It is common for people with a specific phobia to avoid seeking treatment and attempt to live with their symptoms without professional help. However, atelophobia and other specific phobias that significantly impact various areas of functioning should be diagnosed and treated to prevent ongoing or worsening difficulties [4][5].

To diagnose atelophobia, a clinician will ask about the presenting symptoms, physical and mental health history, and family history. They will likely utilize the DSM-5 criteria for specific phobias to help inform their diagnosis, which includes [3]:

  • Impairments in social or professional functioning due to symptoms.
  • Disproportionate levels of fear and anxiety when considering the potential outcome.
  • The anticipation, imagining, or occurrence of imperfections and mistakes results in intense and extreme anxiety and may lead to avoidance of triggering situations.
  • At least six months of persistent symptoms.
  • Symptoms that are not due to other conditions, such as a personality disorder or other anxiety disorder.

Atelophobia treatment

As atelophobia is not well-researched, no evidence-based treatments exist for this condition. Several potentially effective treatments are available for specific phobias, although it is unclear if these treatments are equally effective for each type of phobia. Generally, treatments aim to decrease the individual’s fear and anxiety through systematic exposure and desensitization.


Various therapeutic approaches may be beneficial for individuals with atelophobia, such as [4][5][10][11]:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT can help individuals to recognize and change emotion, thought, and behavior patterns. Therefore, this can help to reduce anxieties associated with imperfections by reconditioning the individual’s fear response, providing coping strategies, and teaching distress tolerance skills.
  • Exposure therapy: Exposure therapy is a type of cognitive therapy. It can help individuals with a specific phobia by gradually increasing their exposure to the feared stimulus, thus increasing desensitization. For those with atelophobia, this may involve gradual exposure to imperfections in increasing severity to slowly build tolerance and reduce distress.
  • Psychodynamic therapy: Psychodynamic therapy may be a beneficial approach to treat atelophobia in those who have developed the condition following traumatic or influencing experiences in childhood. It can provide an understanding of the causes of the condition, thereby helping to change current emotional responses.
  • Other psychotherapies: Other types of talk therapy can help individuals with atelophobia by providing a space to discuss emotional distress, learn ways to manage anxiety symptoms, and reduce negative emotional responses to their phobia.


Medications can be provided to help individuals manage acute or long-term symptoms of specific phobias such as atelophobia. Choosing an appropriate and effective medication may vary from person to person, so it is important to discuss these options with your doctor and report any unwanted or unpleasant side effects when taking a medication.

Potentially helpful medications for atelophobia can include [5][9][10]:

  • Antidepressants: Antidepressants are often prescribed to help people manage anxiety symptoms long-term. This may include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as citalopram, fluoxetine, or sertraline.
  • Beta-blockers: Beta-blockers are often used off-label to help individuals manage acute symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid breathing and heart rate, sweating, and impaired concentration. Propranolol is a commonly prescribed beta-blocker that works in 1-2 hours and may help reduce symptoms of atelophobia.
  • Benzodiazepines: Benzodiazepines, such as lorazepam and diazepam, are also helpful in managing acute anxiety symptoms and work very fast. Although they can effectively treat acute or short-term symptoms, they can cause risks of misuse, abuse, and dependence, so they must be used with caution and under professional advice.


Symptoms of anxiety disorders, including specific phobias such as atelophobia, can be reduced and managed with the use of various self-care techniques. This includes [5][9]:

  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Regularly exercising
  • Using relaxation exercises
  • Meditation and yoga
  • Breathing exercises
  • Getting plenty of sleep
  • Talking to friends and family
  • Attending support groups
  1. Kelly J.D., 4th (2015). Your Best Life: Perfectionism-The Bane of Happiness. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research, 473(10), 3108–3111. Retrieved from
  2. Anxiety & Depression Association of America. (Updated 2023). Specific Phobias. ADAA. Retrieved from
  3. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5thedition. Arlington, VA: APA
  4. Samra, C.K., & Abdijadid, S. (2022). Specific Phobia. In StatPearls [Internet].Treasure Island, FL: StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved from
  5. National Health Service. (Reviewed 2022). Phobias. NHS. Retrieved from
  6. Afshar, H., Roohafza, H., Sadeghi, M., Saadaty, A., Salehi, M., Motamedi, M., Matinpour, M., Isfahani, H.N., & Asadollahi, G. (2011). Positive and Negative Perfectionism and Their Relationship with Anxiety and Depression in Iranian School Students. Journal of Research in Medical Sciences: The Official Journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, 16(1), 79–86. Retrieved from
  7. Villafuerte, S., & Burmeister, M. (2003). Untangling Genetic Networks of Panic, Phobia, Fear and Anxiety. Genome Biology, 4(8), 224. Retrieved from
  8. Iranzo-Tatay, C., Gimeno-Clemente, N., Barberá-Fons, M., Rodriguez-Campayo, M. Á., Rojo-Bofill, L., Livianos-Aldana, L., Beato-Fernandez, L., Vaz-Leal, F., & Rojo-Moreno, L. (2015). Genetic and Environmental Contributions to Perfectionism and its Common Factors. Psychiatry Research, 230(3), 932–939. Retrieved from
  9. Mind. (2021). Phobias. Mind. Retrieved from
  10. Barnhill, J.W., (Revised 2023). Specific Phobias. MSD Manuals. Retrieved from
  11. Kaczkurkin, A.N., & Foa, E.B. (2015). Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety Disorders: An Update on the Empirical Evidence. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 17(3), 337–346. Retrieved from
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Naomi Carr
Author Naomi Carr Writer

Naomi Carr is a writer with a background in English Literature from Oxford Brookes University.

Published: Oct 25th 2023, Last edited: Oct 25th 2023

Morgan Blair
Medical Reviewer Morgan Blair MA, LPCC

Morgan Blair is a licensed therapist, writer and medical reviewer, holding a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Northwestern University.

Content reviewed by a medical professional. Last reviewed: Oct 25th 2023