Are you an over-achiever who’s always running at a frantic pace? Does fear of making a mistake cause you stress and anxiety? Do you put pressure on yourself to be interesting and attractive to others so they will like and accept you? Are you ready to get off the hamster wheel?
To avoid the risk of failure, perhaps you are the type of person who always plans ten steps ahead. Your drive to achieve perfection at whatever cost—whether at home, work, or in your relationships—is exhausting. The high expectations you set for yourself are never sustainable or achievable. And even when things go off without a hitch, you may feel as though you’re falling behind and could be doing more. There is never a finish line to cross.
Your perfectionistic tendencies could exact a mental and physical toll on your health. Putting too much pressure on yourself may result in emotional exhaustion, anxiety, and depression. Debilitating analysis paralysis may set in at times when you second-guess yourself and lack confidence in your decision-making. What’s more, you might suffer from tension headaches, insomnia, and possibly, panic attacks.
At your core, you falsely believe that if you are not “perfect,” then you are not good enough as you are. You may believe your self-worth is inextricably tied to your productivity and accomplishments—proving yourself to others is the only way to achieve a sense of belonging. However, you never quite manage to attain this elusive perfection. Instead, you may suffer from imposter syndrome, fearing you will eventually be “found out.” Meanwhile, your inner critic constantly reminds you that you’re not measuring up no matter what you do.
You might wonder what being accepting of yourself and satisfied with your achievements would feel like—to possess self-love, gratitude, and confidence while trusting that you are enough. Therapy offers you a safe space to explore the origins of your perfectionism so you can dismantle internalized false beliefs that you must always be striving for excellence to be happy and accepted by others.
While perfectionism is not a clinical disorder, it is tied to other mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), trauma, and addiction. A meta-analysis conducted in 2016 by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that “levels of self-oriented perfectionism, socially prescribed perfectionism, and other-oriented perfectionism have linearly increased.” 
We all desire to do well, make others happy, and reach our goals in life. However, perfectionism distorts that innate wish into a mandated rule where everything we do must always be perfect and flawless. Those of us with perfectionistic tendencies are usually flexible and realistic with others, but when it comes to ourselves, we set unrealistic goals and expectations. And when we don’t reach them, we often engage in harsh self-criticism.
Many of us grew up with caregivers and authority figures who rewarded our perfect behavior and performance. Their messages, often misrepresented as, “I just want to best for you,” reinforced the idea that there was always more we could do. Subtle messages—such as looking over a test result in school and hearing, “Let’s see what you got wrong” or being compared to our siblings or friends—reminded us that we hadn’t met the mark. Now as adults at work, we are often evaluated based on results, not our efforts.
A common misperception about perfectionism is that letting go of these tendencies means we will lower our standards, become mediocre, and never achieve our goals. Or we may fear that we will be abandoned or rejected if we stop people pleasing and putting others’ needs ahead of our own. However, neither is true.
Once you acknowledge that you no longer have to prove you are worthy—either to yourself or to others—you can discover a newfound freedom and peace in life. With counseling for perfectionism, you can reevaluate your priorities and find a healthy balance that doesn’t tie self-worth to achievement.
Letting go of perfectionism is not a drill or another test to pass. Rather, perfectionism counseling is a journey to understand how you developed these survival skills—perhaps in response to external pressure, anxiety, rejection, or trauma experienced in childhood.
When you seek perfectionism therapy, you will experience all the benefits that counseling has to offer. Sessions will be a safe place to unpack the challenges of living with perfectionism, tracking its origins, and developing tangible skills that allow you to overcome these tendencies without guilt or shame.
Our goal in therapy will be to help you gently put down your perfectionist tendencies because they are no longer helping you but hurting you. In perfectionism therapy, we will develop skills such as:
Fostering self-compassion by gaining a true sense of self-worth that is not dependent on outcomes, achievements, or others’ approval;
Learning to embrace uncertainty, sit with the discomfort of imperfections, and manage the anxiety around being imperfect;
Focusing on experiences rather than outcomes;
Delegating tasks and asking for help;
Developing assertiveness skills while setting healthy boundaries to address people-pleasing behaviors with others.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for perfectionism helps us identify and address the underlying rules to your behavior, such as, “I must do everything perfectly to be liked,” or “The only way I receive praise and positive reinforcement is by being perfect.” Once identified, we can reframe these core beliefs and reformulate early experiences so that they are no longer tied to performing as a way to garner self-worth or praise.
Just like any habit, perfectionism is engrained behavior. You might not realize how pervasive your need for perfection is. With exposure therapy for perfectionism, you will deliberately do things imperfectly to help break yourself of this habit. For example, your homework may be to send an email with a typo or mute yourself in a Zoom meeting. Allowing mistakes to happen and experiencing the resulting anxiety will help gradually rewire your brain away from perfectionism.
Ultimately, the antidote to perfectionism is self-love. You deserve to feel worthy and enough as you are. Therapy for perfectionism can help you move away from self-criticism and punishment and toward compassion and confidence. The tools you will learn in therapy will allow you to achieve your goals and pursue your passions without burnout and exhaustion.
Why would I need therapy for perfectionism—isn’t it the same thing as doing my best?
Part of therapy for perfectionism is breaking free from the myths and misunderstandings around what the term means. A big difference between perfectionism and striving for excellence is how we handle mistakes. When we prioritize growth and evolution, not just checking off a list of achievements, we don’t shy away from making mistakes. Rather, we are more curious about and accepting of our mistakes because we know we can learn from them.
Putting down perfectionism is often misperceived as being careless, lacking drive, or lowering your standards, but it actually helps improve your quality of life. Our aim in therapy for perfectionism is to help you pursue your dreams and aspirations with self-compassion, authenticity, and balance. As a result, we know that you will thrive with a new mindset that doesn’t go through the motions of trying to be perfect each and every day.
Isn’t perfectionism something I would work with a life coach to address rather than a therapist?
Perfectionism is a personality trait that can impact every aspect of your life. Therapy is not just for clinical disorders but any life experience that takes a toll on your mental and emotional health. Working with a licensed therapist, you can benefit from their education and training to explore the origins of your perfectionism. From there, you can identify when and how it shows up, learn coping skills, and apply evidence-based interventions to help let it go.
You don’t have to perfect—being yourself is more than enough. To schedule an appointment to begin therapy for perfectionism at our Woodland Hills therapy practice or online, please fill out the contact form to schedule a free phone consultation.
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