The ADHD Perfectionism Trap

by | Oct 22, 2020 | ADHD Symptom Control | 7 comments

ADHD perfectionismThe vicious ADHD perfectionism trap ambushes many of my ADHD coaching clients. Attempting unrealistic perfection lures these ADHD adults into devoting too much time to projects, hence leaving the rest of their lives a tangled, anxiety-filled mess.

On the surface it doesn’t seem ADHD and perfectionism would go together. After all, most ADHD adults have a rather slap-dab approach to life.

Yet many perfectionists to come to me for ADHD coaching. At any one time I usually have one or two clients whose lives are spinning out of control due to their need to do things perfectly.

Even without an ADHD diagnosis perfectionism is a nightmare. Add Adult ADHD symptoms such as distraction and procrastination to the perfectionist mix? You’ve got the makings of a horror movie.

Without a plan for how much effort to give a task or project, perfectionists do way more than necessary.

Spending too much time doing things perfectly means other important priorities get pushed aside. ADHD perfectionism leads to overwhelm, stress, and delay.

Most of the perfectionists in my ADHD coaching practice have successful careers. They’re doctors, lawyers, business owners or high-level managers.

Their perfectionism got them through school. Now they’re adults with the complexity of work and family responsibilities. That perfectionism that pushed them to success in school now torpedos them.

My perfectionist clients tell me of spending an hour writing a simple email message. Staying up half the night to finish a routine report.

Straightening one shelf in the linen closet isn’t enough. They feel compelled to pull out the entire contents and straighten the whole thing.

Why Does ADHD Perfectionism Occur?

In his book, More Attention, Less Deficit, Psychologist Ari Tuckman addresses this drive to do things perfectly. Dr. Tuckman believes perfectionism is often overcompensation. A way to deal with the inner fear many ADHD adults have of not doing things well enough.

Most of us have spent a lifetime being told to ‘just try harder’. Many ADHD adults feel like failures.

Dr. Tuckman says perfectionists take it to the level of trying to prove their worth by being perfect. Often they’re not trying to prove their worth to others but to themselves.

Want to learn how to overcome ADHD perfectionism? Click here!


  1. Mónica R.

    Had I known, all these years, that my obsessive behaviour was the very same thing that held me back. Depression and anxiety are only sugar coatings that hide fear. That pretty fear of failure. I came across terrible advice, and I went with this Dr. who easily prescribed me antidepressant pills. Couldn’t he just have helped me realize, that not everything is black or white? That it’s ok to fail, sometimes? That I am extremely curious, smart, creative, energetic, but I spend all of those gifts and talents on figuring out, unconsciously, how to destroy myself? … That I have ADHD or “chronic stress” issues, and it’s ok, that there are ways to fix and help the brain to just, focus? That it’s in my DNA, not my fault?
    I asked for help when I was 24. My life would have been so different had this “Dr.” been wiser. Now, I am 28 and getting out of the hell hole by myself. Left Concerta and Cymbalta. Did some personal research. Got the skeletons out of the closet. Failed a lot more, A LOT more on the way. Oh, and nothing like accepting the failure, and now that I am deeply hurt, I can truly show how vulnerable I am. Today I realized, by myself, on a morning musing, that ADHD and perfectionism are hand in hand.

    I googled, and found out that I was right.

    What to do now? Yes I am very young, so they say haha… It will definitely take time to heal, but it’s a great moment to fix my life…so they say. At least, I am much closer to my family now. Getting to know my friends a lot more (only true friendship shines in crisis). Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, I had a lot of nervous meltdowns lately (a nice result from my beloved insomnia). On the bright side, those breakdowns threw all the answers right at my face. To see the world with truth, hurts, to see how you can be your own worst enemy… hurts even more.

    My research is over… I can finally focus on healing and living. Please feel free to write to me, whoever reads this and wishes to know more on my case, if it helps your research.

    • Dana Rayburn

      Monica, thank you for sharing your experiences. It will help other who read the blog. Overcoming ADHD perfectionism is one of the most challenging things clients work with. And, you’re right, perfectionism is a side effect of fear. Fear of failure. Fear of discovery. Don’t give up on your journey. It’s worth it.

    • Lauren

      Monica, your message was profound on so many levels. Thank you for having the courage to talk about the failures and the skeletons in our closets. I have also completed my research and am ready to start healing from the affects that add has had on my life and my perception of life. I am now a better person for it. Thank you again.

      • Charlie

        I want to reiterate what both Dana and Lauren said – thank-you so much for sharing. Really helped to read that and realise that I’m not alone in the way I’ve been struggling.

        • Dana Rayburn

          Happy to help, Charlie. You are not alone! Perfectionism challenges many ADHD adults.

          • Louise

            Just working on a piece of writing that needs to be done by next Monday. Looking through my notes I see that I made my first stab at it in June last year 😑 If there was a prize for avoiding something, I might get that prize!

    • Hayley

      I could relate to your story sooo much Monica, thankyou so much for so openly sharing it!
      My perfectionism and ADHD has held me back so much career wise… I feel like a fraud and efficient at tasks that I should be efficient at for my years of experience. Like you described, seeking help and being open to mistakes and failure (‘growth’) helps to shift our whole personal paradigm for the better. Are you still open to be contacted? It would be so helpful to talk to someone with such a similar experience! Kind regards, Hayley


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