Breaking Up With Perfectionism

Have you been in a long-term relationship with perfectionism? Has it been your partner in crime for a while? Would you like to end it but don’t know how? Whether it’s our personal or professional life, most of us have been a perfectionist in one area or another. Initially, perfectionism may seem innocent as a force that motivates you to “do your best.” We now know that perfectionism is different than striving for excellence. First of all, Perfectionism is a trait and like most traits, it has been learned and reinforced through experience. Once you know the signs of perfectionism, you can be ready to part ways with it. Here are some common signs of perfectionism. If you are experiencing perfectionism, you also like to be in control. You have a hard time delegating responsibility and trusting that others can do it well too. You may double or even triple check your work. Sometimes, you may never complete a task because there is always something more to add. Did you know that people who procrastinate also struggle with perfectionism? The reason you may be procrastinating is that it may never be the “right” time to start. As a perfectionist, you may also have a big fear of making mistakes. So you may seem indecisive, have a hard time making choices or starting something new. You also may have a very clear way of doing things. If there is a change in schedule or something doesn’t go as planned you can get upset and either blame yourself or others. Perfectionism also comes with its own way of thinking. Black or white thinking, also known as all or nothing. As a result, you may be thinking in extremes and not tolerating things in the middle. Most importantly, Perfectionism can influence your self-esteem and self-worth. You come to measure your worth based on your accomplishments and validation from others. Dr. Brene Brown has pointed out that perfectionist people may have dangerous and debilitating belief system: “I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it” (Gifts of Imperfection). Lastly, perfectionism can bring along other “friends” like depression, anxiety, irritability, addiction, and poor sleep.

There are many tools to help you overcome perfectionism. It is important to start with changing your thinking patterns. Perfectionism lives off of all or nothing thinking. Therefore, you will need to practice more balanced perspective which means “it can be both,” “this is good enough” or “this will have to do it.” More importantly, make sure your inner critic takes a back seat! You must practice positive and compassionate self-talk that is cheerful and supportive. You can do that by acknowledging your accomplishments and identifying your strengths daily. Give yourself permission to do things imperfectly and incompletely. Try to let go of control by asking for help and letting others take charge of some aspect of a task. If your perfectionism gets in the way of you starting or completing tasks, then remember that something is better nothing. Break a task down to small steps and start with one part of it. Maybe have a deadline such that you will decide to work on something for 2 hours and at the end of the 2 hours you commit to moving on to something else. It also never hurts to lower the stakes at times. One of my favorite activities is to ask my client “if someone you love had the same perfectionist thought, what would you say to them.” This question always helps the person reframe and reduce the pressure by coming up with a more rational and realistic goal. Lastly, increase your self-care activities. One of the best ways to combat perfectionism is to take breaks and get rest. You can find balance in your life by creating a quick schedule of your weekly activities. On the schedule, you can allocate time for leisure activities to make sure there is a healthy balance of work and personal life and goals. If you like to learn more about how to end your relationship with perfectionism, then therapy can be the right place for you!

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