The Depressed perfectionist: learn how to break free from the cycle of depression

Perfect Depression

What is Depression

Depression can be categorised by low mood, reduced motivation, and withdrawal from previously pleasurable activities. People with depression might experience a change in their appetite, changes in their sleep, headaches and find it difficult to engage with other people. There are a range of factors which may lead to someone experiencing depression such as negative thinking styles, situational factors, and physiological factors. One of the factors which may contribute to experiencing depression is a perfectionistic thinking style. A perfectionistic thinking style may also hinder people in their recovery from depression.

What is perfectionistic thinking?

Many people often think of perfectionism as a positive thing. On the one hand having high standards may help us to achieve at work. A high standard of work is generally celebrated and rewarded in the workplace. It may lead to promotions and professional success. However, a perfectionistic thinking style is more than just high standards. Perfectionistic thinkers often have unhelpful ways of thinking about their performance and achievement may come at an extreme personal cost. Those with a perfectionistic thinking style often experience the following: unrelenting and high standards, an assessment of self-worth which is based on achievement, and continuing to strive for high standards despite the personal toll this may take. As a result, people with perfectionistic thinking styles often experience: depression or anxiety, a sense of failure, and thoughts that nothing they do is ever good enough.

The depressed perfectionist

When people experience depression, they may be unable to perform or achieve at the same level they might typically be able to. Perfectionistic thinkers may interpret this as a personal failure and evaluate themselves in a negative light. This pattern of thinking may contribute to feelings of depression and hinder people in their recovery. Rather than slowing down in order to recover, the perfectionistic thinker may even attempt to work harder in an attempt to continue performing at their usual level. This may come at the cost of engaging in activities which may support their recovery, creating further distress which may contribute to depressive symptoms.

3 tips for breaking the cycle of depression

The combination of depression and a perfectionistic thinking style may create a negative spiral which may be difficult to see our way out of. These three tips may be helpful for breaking the cycle of depression.

1. Temporarily adjust the expectations you have for yourself

The gap between our expectations and the reality of the situation we are in may lead to distress. In order to create an environment which is conducive to recovery, it may be helpful to set temporarily reset the expectations we have for ourselves. We might do this by setting goals for which are more in line with our current capacity.

2. Redefine what success looks like based on your current situation.

Perfectionistic thinkers compare how they used to perform with how they currently perform. This comparison may be interpreted as evidence of failure which contributes to feelings of depression. By redefining what success looks like at the current time, we start to reframe even small achievements as evidence of success.

3. Focus on one thing at a time and then make small incremental changes

Perfectionistic thinkers tend to try and take on too many things all at the same time. This creates further distress, which may hinder recovery. Decide to make changes in one area of your life, and start by making very small, incremental and manageable changes. Over time, people with depression generally find they can slowly start to increase the number of activities they engage with.

Breaking free from the cycle of depression by yourself can be a challenge. If you require support to, contact Uplift Psychology for a confidential chat.


  • Resource provided by titled “What is Perfectionism”
  • Resource provided by titled “The Vicious Cycle of Depression”

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