Feelings of inadequacy, avoiding leadership roles, and excessive self-criticism can be signs of atelophobia. Support options, like CBT, can help you manage your symptoms.

Fear is a natural human emotion that comes from the perception of a threat, danger, or the potential for a negative outcome. It’s similar to anxiety, a type of anticipatory response that engages your “fight, flight, or freeze” survival mechanisms.

When you feel an extreme, disproportionate amount of fear every time you encounter an object or situation, you may be living with a type of anxiety disorder called specific phobia.

Specific phobia can be about anything. When it’s about imperfection, being wrong, or the fear of making a mistake, the specific phobia is called atelophobia.

Atelophobia is an intense fear of being imperfect, making mistakes, or being wrong that drives you to avoid certain situations and fixate on perfectionism.

Atelophobia is not an official diagnosis under that name, however. It falls under the category of “specific phobia” in diagnostic manuals like the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR).

The DSM-5-TR classifies specific phobias by their phobic stimulus, the object or situation that triggers a fear response.

The formal diagnosis for atelophobia might be “specific phobia with the specifier of ‘other,’” for example, if your lived experience does not fall within the other phobic stimulus categories.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, as many as 12.5% of adults in the United States experience a specific phobia at some point in their lives.

To learn more about phobic stimulus specifiers consider visiting Psych Central’s resource article.

Atelophobia vs. perfectionism

While it’s true that perfectionism often involves a fear of being imperfect, atelophobia and perfectionism are not always interchangeable terms.

Atelophobia is an uncontrollable, extreme, and intense fear of being wrong, imperfect, or making mistakes. It can negatively impact daily function and can cause significant psychological distress.

Perfectionism is not inherently a phobia. It’s a personality trait and behavior that can involve strong feelings of fear or anxiety, but not always at phobic levels.

Unlike a phobia, which causes avoidance, in some cases, perfectionism motivates people into action because of self-imposed high standards.

Was this helpful?

Under the diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5-TR, all specific phobias share core symptoms of:

  • out-of-proportion fear or anxiety every time the phobic stimulus is encountered
  • active avoidance of the phobic stimulus whenever possible or enduring it with extreme fear or anxiety
  • persistent fear, anxiety, and avoidance behaviors, often lasting 6 months or longer
  • impairment in important areas of function due to phobic stimulus fear, avoidance, or anxiety

In atelophobia, these symptoms may look like:

  • avoiding situations where it’s possible to make a mistake
  • not engaging in conversations where you have to express your opinion
  • declining roles of responsibility
  • dwelling on, or being preoccupied with, perceived mistakes or imperfections
  • finding it difficult to make decisions for fear of “being wrong”
  • fixating on perfectionism
  • excessively criticizing yourself for perceived errors or flaws
  • thinking others are judging you constantly
  • feeling inadequate no matter what you do
  • feeling certain that praise is disingenuous
  • obsessively checking work and written correspondence more than necessary

Physical symptoms

Physical symptoms, including panic attacks, are also possible in specific phobias as a result of how anxiety and fear affect functions like heart rate and breathing.

You may experience:

  • sweating
  • trembling
  • pounding or rapid heartbeat
  • difficulty concentrating
  • hyperventilating
  • headaches
  • stomach pain
  • uncontrollable crying
  • an impending sense of doom

Atelophobia vs. atychiphobia

Atychiphobia is the fear of failure. It is not the same as atelophobia.

In atychiphobia, you can make mistakes as long as the end result is success. In atelophobia, if mistakes were made, being successful does not matter.

Was this helpful?

The exact causes of specific phobia aren’t clear and likely involve a complex dynamic between your:

  • personal experiences
  • physiology
  • innate traits
  • environmental factors

According to the DSM-5-TR, altered function in the amygdala is believed to underlie many anxiety disorders, including specific phobia. The amygdala is the part of your brain responsible for threat perception and response, among other functions.

According to a review from 2022, amygdala dysfunction seen in anxiety disorders may be related to a chronic stress response in the body, and resulting in inflammation. Over time, the inflammatory processes change how the amygdala functions and interprets threat stimuli.

Specific phobias are treated primarily with psychotherapy approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). These therapy frameworks help you restructure the unhelpful thought patterns around a phobic stimulus while increasing your tolerance to it through structured exposure.

According to a rapid review in 2020, CBT continues to be one of the most effective therapies for specific phobia.

Exposure and response prevention (ERP), a type of CBT often used in other anxiety disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), may also be effective for specific phobias by helping eliminate anxiety-related behaviors like avoidance or reassurance-seeking.

Your doctor may prescribe medications, such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs, to help control panic attacks and other mood-related symptoms.

Atelophobia and other specific phobias are mental health disorders. They involve uncontrollable, intense, impairing fear that often requires the guidance and support of a mental health professional to overcome.

While working with a mental health professional, you can support your progress by focusing on strategies that reduce anxiety and fear, such as:

  • learning more about specific phobia to help you feel in control of the diagnosis
  • cultivating regular relaxation habits, like meditation or breathwork exercises
  • joining a support group to share experiences and insights about living with a phobia
  • asking a loved one to be there for support when facing a phobic stimulus
  • selecting several in-the-moment coping methods for panic attacks or intense anxiety or fear, like structured counting or box breathing
  • focusing on healthy lifestyle habits to support overall health
  • surrounding yourself with people who view mistakes positively, like as lessons or learning opportunities

Atelophobia is the informal term for a type of specific phobia that involves an uncontrollable fear of being wrong, making a mistake, or being imperfect.

Like all specific phobias, atelophobia is an anxiety disorder and features behaviors of avoidance and overwhelming feelings of fear or anxiety.

CBT is an effective therapy for specific phobias like atelophobia. While you work closely with a mental health professional on restructuring thoughts and behaviors related to phobic stimuli, self-care strategies can help you manage daily life with atelophobia.