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Is Your Adolescent Getting Stuck in the Perfectionism Trap?


Is your teen creative and bright? Does she seem to take pride in the activities she undertakes, only to feel overpowered to the point of wanting to quit? Does your adolescent seem to feel embarrassed or even ashamed when she makes mistakes in front of others? Is she avoiding friends because she compares herself with others she believes are more talented than she is? 

Do you have a teen who excels academically and beats himself up when he doesn’t get a perfect score? Does he seem to have unrealistic high standards for himself? Does he also expect others to hold the same high standards? Does he quit when things get overwhelming and his reason is, “I just can’t dedicate enough time to this. I’m too busy!”

Does your teen seem to spend a significantly longer time in doing certain chores or assignments than other kids her age? Does she seem to lose her temper for apparent insignificant reasons? Does she seem to have an inflated sense of responsibility?

Parents usually begin to worry when they notice their teen is starting to have sleepless nights because of stress about the future. They become concerned when they see their adolescent become overly anxious during important events.

Parents become confused when their adolescent starts showing atypical behavior such as letting their room become messy or their grades begin to plummet. They may not realize perfectionism or “just right” OCD causes an individual to experience an “all-or-nothing attitude, and when life becomes too difficult, their child gives up trying.

Quite often parents can miss this type of OCD because their adolescent is such a high achiever. As they see their teen become distraught when he perceives he is a failure, they may decide to seek professional help.

Take a look at the obsessions and compulsions (safety behaviors) list and mark the ones your adolescent is exhibiting.

Possible worries or obsessions:

  • Questioning whether they have said, done, or thought certain things perfectly
  • Questioning whether others perfectly understand what your adolescent has said
  • Wanting to do, think, or say everything (or certain things) perfectly
  • Wanting to have a perfect appearance
  • Wanting their clothes to fit perfectly
  • Questioning whether they have told the truth perfectly
  • Making or keeping their room possessions perfectly clean or pristine, or the complete opposite
  • Keeping your possessions in perfect order or the complete opposite
  • Ordering things or making them symmetrical
  • Wanting to know everything about a specific subject or topic
  • Perfectly understanding what they have read
  • Perfectly communicating their thoughts through writing
  • Worried about “never” being able to be happy, or “never” being able to get what they want in their life
  • Worried about having insulted or offended others
  • Worried about forgetting information (memories, facts, appointments, etc.)

Possible Compulsions:

  • Keeping new possessions unused or in perfect condition
  • Buying only items which are perfect
  • Keeping their living space perfectly clean and orderly or messy because they feel overwhelmed
  • Avoiding places or objects once they have been arranged perfectly
  • Saying things perfectly
  • Remembering or memorizing things perfectly
  • Reading or rereading every word in a document to avoid missing anything
  • Learning everything about a particular subject
  • Keeping remaking decisions to ensure picking the perfect one
  • Rewriting or writing over numbers or letters to make them perfect
  • Performing ordinary activities extra slowly to get them done perfectly
  • Thinking of certain things perfectly or exactly
  • Being perfectly religious
  • Punishing themselves when they don’t behave perfectly
  • Being perfectly self-denying
  • Looking at certain things in the environment in a special or perfect way
  • Being perfectly aware of everything going on around their environment
  • Being perfectly honest
  • Perfectly confessing about all their thoughts or behaviors to others
  • Confessing to having done wrongful things whether they have done them or not
  • Making one’s appearance perfect
  • Keeping extensive lists or records of certain things

What Can You Do?

You want your child to succeed; they want that too! However, are they going about it with a flexible or rigid mindset?

  • Let them share their thoughts and frustrations with you. Validate (“This is important to you. I can see this is really hard for you!”). Validate, validate!
  • When they are struggling with a difficult emotion, invite them to locate where in their body they are feeling it. Have them name the emotion. Ask them to give it a shape, color, temperature, and texture. Invite them to notice it as if it were a thing they can see and touch. Can they see it with compassion and patience? See if they can imagine holding it gently for a minute or two.
  • Plan activities together to help them let go of the rigidity they may feel compelled to act on every day.
  • Invite them to notice the difference when they are willing to be flexible instead of rigidly obeying the rule-making mind.

Find a mental health provider who specializes in working with adolescents and treating OCD and obsessive-compulsive related disorders.  

Your teen deserves joy; they can learn how to get unstuck from the perfectionism trap!  


  1. Jonathan Grayson, Freedom from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Personalized Recovery Program for Living with Uncertainty (Berkley Books: New York, 2004).

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A guide to help you find relief and happiness in spite of religious or moral OCD (scrupulosity OCD). Learn more about Annabella Hagen's book.
Imperfectly Good - Book by Annabella Hagen

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