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ADHD and perfectionism

By Tara Drinks

At a Glance

  • It’s not uncommon for people with ADHD to be perfectionists.

  • They can get very anxious about small details and “get stuck.”

  • Perfectionism can be overwhelming, but there are ways to help.

People with ADHD aren’t often thought of as perfectionists. On the surface, it might seem like they race through tasks and ignore details without worrying about the consequences. Still, some people with ADHD can be perfectionists.

Perfectionism isn’t just about trying to do a good job. It’s about getting stuck in ways that make it harder to get things done in a reasonable amount of time. It’s also about being too anxious about small details. 

The need to be perfect can be overwhelming. It can cause challenges at home, at school, and even on the job. 

Dive deeper

ADHD and getting stuck

People with ADHD can “get stuck” on a topic or action. When this happens, they may say the same thing or behave in the same way over and over again. This is called perseveration. 

People who perseverate aren’t being defiant or stubborn. Chances are they’re actually struggling with things like managing stress, processing information, or shifting attention. And these are all common challenges for people with ADHD.

But there’s a difference between perseverating and obsessing. Obsessing over something typically looks more severe and is linked to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Extreme cases of perfectionism can sometimes be a sign of OCD. But that’s not always the case.

Learn more about perseveration and how it can show up .

Perfectionism and anxiety

The need to do something perfectly can create a lot of anxiety. And anxiety can make perfectionism even harder to manage.

Perfectionists may worry a lot in advance about an upcoming assignment or test. More than likely, they’ve already pictured in their mind how things should turn out. So they’ll keep working at it until it does.

Get to know signs of anxiety in people with ADHD . Then download this log to understand moments of anxiety better.

Perfectionism at school and work

Perfectionism can have a negative impact on how kids and adults handle tasks in school and on the job. 

Kids with ADHD can be hyperfocused. They might spend a lot of time making sure an assignment comes out “just right.” And if it doesn’t come out the way they expected it to, they might dwell on what could have been done differently.

On the job, adults might get stuck on preparing for a presentation. They might take a lot of time to decide on the best way to format the presentation. That can take away from time they should spend on actually creating the presentation.

Struggling with perfectionism can be overwhelming. It can take a toll on a person’s self-esteem. When a person doesn’t complete a task “perfectly” in their own eyes, they may start to feel like a failure. 

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How to help with perfectionism

Things don’t always have to be “perfect.” It’s OK to let go of that pressure. But sometimes that’s easier said than done. Here are ways to help with perfectionism.

Educators: Reminds students that making mistakes is part of learning, and not everything requires the same amount of detail or care. This will help kids to not “sweat the small stuff.” 

Try these sentence starters to respond to students with empathy. 

If you have ADHD: People with ADHD often have trouble shifting their perspective from one situation to the next. Try to be kind to yourself. Remind yourself that sometimes good is good enough. 

Read this personal story from an adult with ADHD who struggles with perfectionism .

Parents and caregivers: Avoid telling kids to try their best. The word best can make kids stress even more about performance.

Instead, praise kids’ efforts to help them focus on what matters, like just completing the task. 

If these tips aren’t helpful, consider speaking with a health care provider. Learn about the different types of emotional help that are available.

Related topics

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom