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Portraying a False Self: Perfectionism and Inauthenticity

How perfectionism can lead to an inauthentic self

Perfectionists have a compelling need to conform to the expectations of others. With their shaky self-worth, they strive to behave in a way they think others will favor. Perfectionists see an idealized self in their irrational imagination; they struggle with self-criticism and ultimately have a perpetual need to win the approval of others. They are typically people pleasers. But what they really excel in is presenting a false self to the world. And ultimately, they are pressured to think, feel, and behave in a way that is not their own, molding themselves into something they are not. Unsurprisingly, these individuals are estranged from their real and authentic self.


What is authenticity? Authenticity is conceptualized as a trait-like tendency to be true to oneself and to behave in line with one's own beliefs and values. Research suggests that authenticity is vital to psychological well-being and is believed to be at the very essence of healthy functioning. For instance, authenticity is positively related to vitality, self-esteem, and positive affect, while negatively related to depression, anxiety, and stress. As such, authenticity is deemed to be a protective factor against mental illness.

Fabrizio Verrecchia/ Unsplash
Authentic self
Source: Fabrizio Verrecchia/ Unsplash

The origins

Inauthentic and perfectionistic behaviours are believed to develop in childhood. The child ultimately disregards their intrinsic needs and desires, and instead devotes their energy to meet the needs and expectations of others. They are hypervigilant to what is needed to gain a sense of belonging. They learn that with their achievements and performance, comes love, praise, and affection. And this lesson stays with them throughout life.

A self-defeating paradox

A perceived pressure on the self to meet unrelenting expectations may lead perfectionistic individuals to promote their perfection and avoid displaying or disclosing any signs of imperfection. Though they appear insincere, their behaviors are really a means to gain greater connection to others. Lurking below the surface is a longing for love, admiration and acceptance and a desperate need to avoid feelings of guilt and shame. Though paradoxically, because people seek relationships with those who are genuine, their inauthentic behaviors can foster greater disconnection, rejection, and alienation from others.

To counter an inauthentic front, they must let go of what others think, celebrate their quirks, and accept their imperfections. Perfectionists can exercise being more genuine, honest, and forming deeper connections with others. They should no longer be ruled by the expectations of others. They must be freed to live life as their true self. In fact, they may just realize how much people love them for who they truly are.


Hewitt, P. L., Flett, G. L., & Mikail, S. F. (2017). Perfectionism: A relational approach to conceptualization, assessment, and treatment. Guilford Publications.

Horney, K. (1951). Neurosis and human growth. London: Routledge.

Wood, A. M., Linley, P., Maltby, J., Baliousis, M., & Joseph, S. (2008). The authentic personality: A theoretical and empirical conceptualization and the development of the Authenticity Scale. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 55, 385–399.