How to Overcome Perfectionism

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Perfectionism is sneaky. It often starts as a coping mechanism when we’re young and unable to recognize its lies. Although it disguises itself as a desire for excellence, perfectionism is actually an intense fear of failure.

This fear has the power to destroy confidence, self-esteem, and relationships. It keeps those in its grasp believing that our worthiness comes from achievement. That we could never be valued or loved based solely upon our status as a human being.

Perfectionism is a toxic force which often associates with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and even suicide.

If perfectionism is ruling your life, it’s time to set yourself free. Ditch the inner critic and choose peace. Start here.

The Perfectionism Myth

Perfectionism has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It’s tough for me to recall a time when I didn’t obsess over every little detail of everything I do. Or procrastinate because I believe that I’ll never complete something to my own impossibly high standards.

It’s funny how quickly our own maladaptive coping strategies weave their way into our lives, blinding us to their truly negative impacts.

At least not until something challenges our inner world. Although I have recently had one of those “reality check” moments, I once regarded perfectionism as my super power. Deep down inside, I secretly believed that my success in life was directly related to my perfectionism.

I believed that my tendency to stubbornly cling to ridiculously high standards drove me to greater heights than I could otherwise achieve.

In fact, perfectionism eventually permeated my thinking to such a degree that living any other way was simply unimaginable. My constant need to control every aspect of my life was exhausting but felt safe. It wove its way into my very being, wreaking havoc on my motivation, confidence, and even my self-esteem.

And it all starts innocently enough, often with the simple desire to succeed. But instead of focusing on achieving success, the focus is on avoiding failure.

Over time, the focus continues to narrow in on avoiding failure. It consumes you and soon it’s nearly impossible to enjoy the journey because you’re too busy fixating on failure.

You tell yourself that you’ll be able to relax once you achieve the goal. Except the goal you’re going after is constantly moving. The bar is always being pushed higher.

And there is no celebration because perfection does not exist and you will therefore never achieve it. This is the myth of perfectionism.

You may also enjoy reading this post about overcoming self-doubt.

Signs of Perfectionism

Perfectionism can take many forms. It may show up in your life as rigid, all-or-nothing thinking. Soon this can morph into the desire for greater control. Then follows the nagging thought that if you only had more control, then you could achieve perfection.

Or maybe perfectionism manifests as having unreasonably high expectations of yourself or others. Thus the difficulties with achieving both inner peace and harmony with those around you. After all, it’s tough to have a sense of calm when nothing ever feels good enough.

It’s that voice in your head which points out every tiny mistake in an endless array of life scenarios. A misspelled word here or an awkward interaction there. Such mistakes may cause you to seriously question your worth as a person. How could anyone ever love you after such gigantic blunders?

Maybe you even find yourself feeling completely overwhelmed but unable to delegate anything to anyone else. After all, there’s no one who can do it like you do. No one else has the attention to detail or commitment to the project. It would only result in you needing to do everything all over again anyway.

Procrastination is perfectionism when you put off tasks due to fear of being unable to complete them to your high standards. You’ll never succeed anyway so what’s the point of starting?

And being unable to accept compliments from others is yet another sign perfectionism is ruling your life. Anyone who compliments you is clearly lying because there are a million things wrong with this project. Either that or they’re too oblivious to realize all the mistakes you made in its completion. And at the end of the day, neither scenario is flattering.

Perfectionism Holds You Back

Regardless of how perfectionism shows up in your life, it’s holding you back. It holds you back from your true potential, from authentic relationships with others, and ultimately, from happiness.

Perfectionism is a mask we use to hide our true selves from others. Something which starts as a coping mechanism evolves into a completely skewed view of the world.

Perfectionism has you believing that your worth is based upon your accomplishments. That you have to earn love and acceptance. And that showing your flaws to others will only push them further away from you.

Perfectionism keeps you from trying new things. It paralyzes you with fear of failure. And it keeps you stuck where you’re at.

The worst part about perfectionism is that it lulls you into a false sense of security. It feeds you the lie that you’re in control and as long as you’re calling the shots, nothing bad will ever happen.

But the truth is that as long as perfectionism is running the show, you’ll never be the person you were meant to be.

The person who simply tries their best and is ok with the rest.

Or the person who can actually kick back and relax without fearing the world is coming to an end.

And you’ll never find the inner peace of someone who accepts themselves for who they are, flaws and all.

As someone who has lived the lie of perfectionism for the past 20 years, my greatest wish for you is to find peace.

The Path to Recovery

If any of the above rings a little too true with you, congratulations! You have achieved the crucial first step of awareness. It has taken me years of discovery, self-development, and counseling to unpack the negative impact perfectionism has had on my outlook.

But I couldn’t have done it without opening up to someone. I had to let someone in so I could finally see that all my self-imposed rules were ridiculous. My goals were unattainable. And all the negativity was only feeding into my anxiety and depression.

Perfectionism tends to keep you locked in your head avoiding action. But opening up to someone you trust releases those thoughts and gives you outside perspective.

Although friends and family are great for support, I recommend finding a professional, at least in the beginning of your journey. A neutral third party, such as a counselor, is essential for giving you completely unbiased feedback.

Loved ones mean well but they often have their own opinions about your life. This can actually be counterproductive when trying to break free from people pleasing perfectionist tendencies. Their feedback has the potential to trigger the perfectionism in such subtle ways that in many cases, you will be completely unaware of it.

A trained professional can help you identify these behavioral patterns. They can also help you develop ways to overcome them.

Although I have been known to joke about my perfectionist tendencies, it is a serious issue which requires attention. Just the other day I read an article about a beautiful woman and mom of 3 little ones who struggled with perfectionism and unfortunately, took her own life. Her family was very clear that perfectionism was a contributor to her suicide.

Get the help that you need now to overcome the negativity. You matter!

Stop Comparing

Comparison is a slippery slope to perpetual unhappiness. There will always be someone out there who is prettier than you. Smarter than you. Wealthier than you. And someone who has a better Instagram feed than you.

Their house is bigger, cleaner, and more tastefully decorated. Maybe their kids are better-behaved and their husband does all the cooking. They’re always driving late model SUVs. And they were recently promoted at work.

There will always be someone out there who appears to be further ahead than you are. It’s a fact of life.

The reality is that we all struggle in one way or another. Perfectionism wants you to believe that you are the only one struggling.

It has you believing that you need to look and act a certain way to gain the approval of others. That you will never receive love or acceptance if anyone sees the messy parts of you.

Perfectionism is a liar.

We all have messy parts in our lives. Everyone struggles, fails, and starts all over again at some point in their lives. Not one of us has gone through life without failing at some point.

There is no such thing as perfection. It doesn’t exist.

So stop the comparison trap. Turn off social media. Take time to do those things which make you feel good about yourself and who you are.

Meditate. Exercise. Journal.

Do whatever it is that makes you feel like the person you were created to be.

You may also enjoy reading this post about comparison.

A Word About Self-Talk

Self-talk is the language we use with ourselves. It includes both the easier to identify conscious and the more subtle subconscious.

What does your self-talk sound like? Is it encouraging and uplifting? Or does it sound more like the mean girls from middle school?

If you’re struggling with perfectionism, chances are good that your self-talk is the latter. It’s time to put those mean girls in their place. Middle school is over. You’re an adult and as a human being, you deserve better than that.

Start paying attention to the words you use with yourself. If you’re having difficulty identifying whether or not your self-talk is positive, write down your thoughts and read them out loud.

I had no idea how truly hurtful my self-talk was until I started asking myself whether I would say the thought out loud to a friend. It’s shocking how clear the nature of your self-talk becomes when you use this filter.

And I became immediately aware of just how critical I had become of myself.

Self-talk is powerful. It can either build you up or tear you down. It’s the most frequent voice you hear so you owe it to yourself to make it a positive one.

Mute the inner critic. I promise that you will miss her even less than your 8th grade bully!

Shift Your Mindset

Once you begin working on your self-talk, it’s time to tackle your mindset. Perfectionism has you believing things are black and white. Gray doesn’t exist. There is only success or failure.

Perfectionism is a liar.

There is a gray and it’s the place where the most growth happens.

Failure can never exist if you instead re-frame it as learning.

Whenever something doesn’t work out as planned, you have a choice. You can either allow yourself to be defeated or you can pick yourself up and try again. Learn from the experience and apply those lessons toward a different future outcome.

Perfectionism has you believing that you are powerless. A victim to circumstance.

But do you want to live your life that way? Wouldn’t you rather be the heroine of your own story? The person who never gives up and never surrenders?

I do.

Shift your mindset. Embrace failure as an opportunity for growth. Remember that failure can never exist if you learn and grow from it.

Ditch the black and white thinking and start living in the gray.

You may also enjoy reading this post about achieving a positive mindset.

Live, Laugh, Love

Perfectionism is an evil cloud blocking out the sun in your life. It’s time to get serious about confronting its subtle lies.

You deserve happiness. Life is messy and unpredictable. But you are more powerful than you realize. You are the heroine of your story and can overcome anything, even perfectionism.

Stop hiding behind the lies and start living. Don’t let its lies steal even one more moment of happiness from you.

Get the help you deserve.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how perfectionism holds you back and what you’re doing to overcome it below!

15 thoughts on “How to Overcome Perfectionism

  1. This so used to be me and finally I have (mostly) overcome it and it’s a huge burden lifted off of me. Great article!

    1. I’m so happy to hear that you’ve been able to remove the negative burden from your life! It does feel good to be able to recognize it for what it is and to make a conscious decision not to let it control your life anymore. Good for you! Thank you so much for stopping by! 🙂

  2. Don’t forget Voltaire’s “Perfection is the enemy of good”. That was one of my bosses’ favorite quotes.

  3. This is such a refreshing and motivational post. I do agree with the fact that perfection is a myth and it holds you back all while comparing yourself to others. Looking forward for more of your posts. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  4. wow ! Everything you said here is so accurate.. perfectionism is an extreme fear of failure. I grew up in an extremely critical environment and I’ve always been a perfectionist, I always told myself that i was just trying to be the best but i was really struggling… And as i got older, more aware of mental illness and perfectionism I started picking up on my own mental illness. So insightful, thanks for sharing

    1. Thank you so much! I’m glad to hear that you have been able to recognize the negative impact perfectionism has had on your own life. So much freedom comes with its recognition!

  5. Wow this was an amazing read. I had no idea that perfectionisim, deriving from a positive word can have such a great negative impact. I never thought it could have side effects leading to depression and anxiety. I have always tried to perfect everything I do and there have been times I felt depressed and anxious. I never would have thought they would be connected to perfectionism, and this post has definitely opened my eyes and gave me a clearer perspective. I enjoyed reading this post and I’m gonna be taking your advice for sure

    1. Thank you! I’m so glad you found this post helpful and are implementing steps toward progress instead of perfection. And thank you for the thoughtful comment!

  6. I have also experienced perfectionism my entire life. My major stress and anxiety has always been driven by my intense level of perfectionism. When I got to college, perfectionism put me in a state of sadness and pure lack of joy. I have a major fear of failure (as you mentioned above) and I do struggle to delegate work because I don’t think anyone can do it as well as I can. Oftentimes, I become overwhelmed and burned out. I spend time on things I hate just because I feel I “should” get it done and know I can do it well. Recently, I learned to leave certain tasks to experts because they’re the ones who actually like to do the work and they WILL do better than me lol. I reached my breaking point a few months ago and have learned how to manage my perfectionism in many ways. Your suggestions are AMAZING. Negative self-talk is something I too have become very aware of. This post is going to be helpful to so many people!

    1. I’ve been there too – it’s such a tough place to be. Getting to the root of the issue, perfectionism and fear of failure, is the only way to again find peace and joy in your life. I’m so happy to hear that you are taking steps to live a life free of perfectionism! Thank you so much for sharing your deeply personal story and for your kind words! 🙂

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