Emotions & Shame

What Perfectionist Traits Infiltrate Your ADHD Brain?

Perfectionist traits like imposter syndrome and all-or-nothing thinking often accompany ADHD. We asked ADDitude readers which aspects of perfectionism cause them the most trouble, and here is what you said.

Imposter syndrome, perfectionist traits
Imposter syndrome.woman standing for her present profile with fear after door . Anxiety and lack of self confidence at work; the person fakes is someone else concept

Perfectionist traits commonly accompany attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Especially after a lifetime of ADHD-related challenges and criticisms, many adults set unreasonably high standards for themselves and negatively compare themselves to others, falling victim to imposter syndrome. Perfectionism becomes, for them, an unhealthy coping mechanism.

“Perfectionists are often driven by the fear of disappointing themselves or others,” said clinical psychologist and author Sharon Saline, Psy.D. in a recent ADDitude webinar on perfectionism. “They are all-or-nothing thinkers; if it’s not completely right, then it must be a failure.”

We asked ADDitude readers which perfectionist traits cause them the most trouble. Nancy from North Carolina struggles with imposter syndrome. “When I try to kick my business into high gear, I feel like a failure if I can’t get it to work right away,” she said. “I’ll then abandon whatever plan I had and start something new… flit, flit.”

[Get This Free Download: 9 Truths About ADHD and Intense Emotions]

Charlotte described her life as small because of her need to be perfect on the first try of something. “I do not try new things, nor do I understand the concept of starting off green and getting better with practice,” she said. “When I learn something new, I believe that I’m the last person on earth to learn it, and I do not give validity to my knowledge and skills.”

Linda from Minnesota finds herself stuck in the “shoulds” so often and so deeply that she can’t stop working. “When I go to bed at night, I look around my apartment and need to make sure it’s ‘ready’ to be seen if I don’t wake up in the morning and my neighbor finds me and the body baggers come for me,” she said. “I don’t want to be seen as a messy or dirty person, even if I’ve passed away. That’s downright sad.”

What Is Your Most Prominent Trait of Perfectionism?

In a recent reader survey, almost half of ADDitude readers reported having many perfectionist traits. Not feeling “good enough” and all-or-nothing thinking resonated with most survey participants. See the rest of the results below.

  • Not feeling “good enough:” 13%
  • All-or-nothing thinking: 13%
  • Setting unreasonable standards: 12%
  • Sensitivity to feedback: 8%
  • Living by “should:” 6%
  • Negative comparisons with others: 3%
  • All of the above: 42%

Perfectionist Traits with ADHD: Next Steps


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