ADHD and Perfectionism: The Unlikely Couple

Demi Aspey
6 mins read
Aug 27, 2023

Anyone might think that ADHD and perfectionism were the furthest thing from partners in crime.

But perfectionism is a core trait for those of us with ADHD!

The relentless drive of ADHD perfectionism creates a unique blend of emotions and challenges. 

Imagine the energy of ADHD, often misunderstood and misinterpreted, aligning with the rigorous demands of perfection. Which, let me add, is an impossible standard for any of us to achieve, ADHD or not!

This crossroads is more common than you think and deserves some detective work.

Get your Sherlock hats on!

What is perfectionism? ✨

Perfectionism isn't just doing things "good". It's an impossible pursuit to achieve exceptionally high standards, even if those standards seem unattainable. 

And let me tell you, perfection is a lie and incredibly subjective.

It's a battle we're all doomed to lose in the end.

Paired with an internal critic who is never satisfied, it can be a burrowing pit for self-esteem and well-being.

Is there a dark side to ADHD perfectionism? 🔦

Beyond the external quest for perfection lies its darker side—chronic stress, burnout, and self-doubt reign supreme.

When our sense of self-worth is tethered to achieving these high standards, the weight of any perceived failure can be crushing.

No matter how hard you try, that dangling carrot is always a few inches out of reach!

The Link Between ADHD and Perfectionism 🧠

At first glance, ADHD, characterised by its innate inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, may seem in stark contrast to the meticulous nature of perfectionism.

Yet, when we compile the evidence, many individuals with ADHD gravitate towards perfectionistic tendencies as a coping mechanism

Oftentimes, it's a method of masking and trying to pass off a "neurotypical".

In response, our beautifully neurodiverse minds say, "Aww hell nah, let me hyperfocus into oblivion with a mega dash of anxiety for extra spice!".

Me: I have ADHD, so starting and finishing tasks is hard. Also me: If I don't do these 30 things today I'm a failure. ADHD meme

This might stem from societal expectations, stigmas associated with ADHD, and the ever-present shadow of rejection-sensitive dysphoria (RSD). 

Examples of ADHD perfectionism:

Previous negative experiences 😥 

For many with ADHD, past encounters with criticism or failure can set the stage for an intense desire to 'make things right' through perfectionism.

Rejection sensitive dysphoria 💔

More than just a fear of criticism, RSD results in profound emotional pain linked to perceived rejection or criticism, heightening perfectionistic tendencies.

An important word to note here: PERCEIVED. 

Task completion challenges ✅

Those with ADHD can sometimes hyper-focus on details, making the task completion process exhaustive and overwhelmingly intricate.

ADHD decision fatigue 🥴

Trying to be perfect all the time is overwhelming and can deplete your decision making abilities.

ADHD Masking & Overcompensating 🎭

ADHD masking is more than just putting on a brave face. 

It's an inner tumult of emotions where you constantly feel you need to prove yourself. 

This incessant drive to 'fit in' or 'measure up' can lead to an unsustainable cycle of overcompensation through perfectionism.

People pleasers, where you at? 

ADHD perfectionism people pleaser gif

ADHD Perfectionism: Signs, Types, and Link to Anxiety 😰

For ADHD folks, perfectionism is more than just a trait—a relentless string of emotions, fears, and behaviours.

The daunting fear of failure, the paralysing grasp of procrastination due to the impending doom of imperfection, and a punishing self-critic can lead to heightened anxiety. 

See ADHD task paralysis for the inside scoop!

These emotional upheavals can amplify ADHD symptoms, leading to:

Fear of Failure: 

An overpowering apprehension about mistakes leads to inaction or avoidance. 

Procrastination & Getting Stuck: 

Postponing tasks due to the dread of imperfections.

All-or-Nothing Thinking: 

A binary worldview—either it's perfect, or it's worthless.

ADHD Perfectionism & Anxiety: 

A spiral where striving for perfection amplifies anxiety levels.


An intense, obsessive focus on specific tasks or thoughts.

Sensitivity to Criticism & Emotional Regulation: 

Responses to feedback are heightened, especially with underlying RSD.

8 Tips for Coping With ADHD Perfectionism 💡

1. Address Imposter Syndrome 

Tormented by ADHD imposter syndrome?

Recognise and validate your achievements. 

Understand that feeling like a 'fraud' is a common experience, not a reflection of your capabilities.

Keep a folder or box of positive feedback you have received.

When the imposter gremlin rears its ugly head, treat it to a tour of your awesomeness!

2. Practice Compassion 

Treat yourself with the kindness and patience you'd show to your best friend. 

Internalise that everyone has their unique journey. 

Start with daily affirmations, save motivational videos and cut yourself some slack. 

We're all humans.

None of us really know what we're doing!

3. Practice Mindfulness 

Engage with the present moment, focusing on the task at hand without getting lost in the maze of over-analysation.

Meditation, walking in the great outdoors or listening to music that connects with you on the deepest level. 

4. Accept Mistakes & See Them as Learning Opportunities 

Remember, every stumble is a stepping stone towards growth and understanding.

To quote Fleabag, "People make mistakes; that's why they put rubbers at the end of pencils"

5. Practice Self-Celebration: 

Understand your intrinsic worth.

Be your own best advocate and supporter. 

Sound cringey?Well, it's better than relentlessly beating yourself up.

Now remind yourself what a badass you are! 

6. Set Realistic Goals & Be Flexible: 

Perfection is an illusion.

Set ambitious and attainable goals, and be open to change. 

Small, daily steps. I also like to remind myself that messy action is better than no action.

Embrace learning and growth. It feels spectacular!

7. Utilising ADHD-Friendly Tools and Resources

For those of us trying to perform rip curls on the waters of ADHD perfectionism, having the right tools can be life-changing. 

Accountability is one of the strongest resources.

Deepwrk's body doubling app and community are ready to help you rock and roll so you can stay focused.

I also have accountability buddies for my health and fitness because if you take care of your body, it'll take care of your mind!

And you know we can't sing the praises of body doubling highly enough! Deepwrk's ADHD coworking sessions offer a unique approach to task completion, lending a sense of companionship and motivation.

All our experiences are different, but it doesn't mean we have to experience them alone!

8. Get The Professionals On It 👩‍⚕️

Listen, understanding ADHD and its relationship with perfectionism can be complex.

We don't expect, after reading this article, you're going to tell perfectionism to do one magically.

But hopefully, it's opened your mind up to looking ADHD perfectionism in the face and saying, "Can you give it a rest?". 

Perfectionism has its merits; we should all strive to do our best. But it needs to take a seat when it costs your mental and physical well-being.

Seeking guidance from coaches, therapists, and psychiatrists can offer a fresh perspective, tailored strategies, and a safe space to unpack and address intertwined challenges.

Final Touches 💫

The coupling of ADHD and perfectionism is intricate and intense. 

And with all relationships, a little passion is necessary. But when it becomes toxic, it's time to have "the talk". 

Recognising, understanding, and addressing this imbalance can open doors to a harmonious, fulfilling, and productive life journey.

One where you don't constantly question your worth or bury yourself in unfair standards.

Here's how I see it: Accept the things you can't do and remind yourself of the brilliant things you can. We're all great at something, but being great at everything isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does perfectionism affect the self-esteem of adults with ADHD?

ADHD perfectionism can be a double-edged sword.

While it pushes individuals to strive for excellence, it can also create a perpetual sense of inadequacy.

For adults with ADHD, this can further dent their already fragile self-esteem.

Can therapy or counselling help address ADHD perfectionism?


Professional help provides a structured approach to unpack the intricacies of ADHD and perfectionism, offering coping strategies and insights to navigate these challenges.

I strongly recommend therapy or counselling for everyone, ADHD or not.

How can friends and family members support adults with ADHD in overcoming perfectionism?

Offering a listening ear, practising patience, and providing affirmation can go a long way.

It's about creating a safe space where they feel valued and understood.

Avoid being hypercritical.

Build people up rather than tear them down.

Can managing perfectionism improve ADHD symptoms?

Reducing the grasp of perfectionism can indeed help in alleviating some of the challenges associated with ADHD, fostering a healthier mental state.

What are some practical daily strategies adults with ADHD can implement to minimise perfectionistic tendencies?

Cultivating self-awareness, setting balanced goals, practising mindfulness, and proactively seeking support can be transformative.

Sources & References

  1. Serine AD, et al. (2020). The relationship between cognitive distortions and adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder after accounting for comorbidities and personality traits.
  2. Christian C, et al. (2021) Latent profile analysis of impulsivity and perfectionism dimensions and associations with psychiatric symptoms.
  3. Katzenmajer-Pump L, et al. (2021). Low level of perfectionism as a possible risk factor for suicide in adolescents with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
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Demi Aspey
Demi is the founder of the creative agency, Sonder Script, a culture columnist for House of Coco magazine, a part-time lecturer, and a soon-to-be Doctor in screenwriting. She is a scriptwriter by speciality and a copywriting cultivator by trade. Demi is a mental health advocate and was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult.