Do you need to overcome perfectionism? Most of us have several life aspects where we exert extra effort to make sure things are just right. It could be a meticulous desire for a clean car, home, or yard. Or possibly an aspect of your career that causes you to focus more attention than you do on most other tasks.
To some extent, these tendencies are part of what makes us unique from others. They can sometimes even be funny as we laugh with each other about what we obsess over or want “perfect.” If managed well, these tendencies can be healthy, like when we pay close attention to our safety or others’. However, when coming up with a good perfectionist meaning or definition, we speak of setting standards so high that they undermine your greatest potential.
In his “Psychology Today” article entitled How to Conquer Perfectionism Before It Conquers You, Gustavo Razzeti shares the following:
“Perfectionism is an illusion—we believe it makes us better but actually harms us.”
Perhaps your need for perfection negatively impacts your relationships, health or career, for instance. When perfectionism harms your life in some way, it’s wise to evaluate what needs to change. Overcoming perfectionism takes time, but freedom from its grip is certainly possible. Here are some thoughts on how to do that.
Identify Why You Need and Want to Overcome Perfectionism
Another way to phrase that is by asking yourself, “What have I lost due to toxic perfectionism?” It’s true we tend not to change until things get bad enough and we’re forced to make intentional and better choices. Identify the reason you want to alter your perfectionistic habits.
Maybe your impossibly high standards in one or more areas are causing significant-other friction. It could also be that you’ve placed the same impossible goals you set for yourself on your spouse, partner, children, or co-workers. Or, perhaps you’re so focused on completing certain tasks flawlessly that your relationship hasn’t received the attention and nurturing it needs to continue growing.
It’s also possible you’re wracked by anxiety, self-criticism, and self-doubt. In that case, your mental and physical health are likely declining. You feel paralyzed by the prospect of failure and struggle to get started or complete tasks as a result (sometimes referred to as procrastinating perfectionism).
By discovering where the problem lies, you’ll do more than identify how to develop an effective strategy to overcome perfectionism. You’ll also figure out exactly why you need and want to change. Doing so can be a positive motivator. Until you feel perfectionism’s pain, you’re guaranteed to stay the same.
Write out the reasons why you want to change and post your list somewhere you frequently see it. Here are a few examples.
“Because I want to practice more self-compassion.”
“Because I’m tired of being anxious all the time and struggling to sleep.”
“I want to be there more for others who need me instead of being so stressed out.”
I’m tired of feeling depressed over my constant perception of failure.
“My spouse or partner needs me to have more realistic expectations.”
Is Your Perfectionism All-Consuming?
There are different levels of severity when it comes to perfectionism. Do you find that you struggle in one or several life areas or are things far worse than that? It could be that your perfectionism is all-consuming—that you have impossibly high standards in all areas. Those unrealistically high standards coupled with excessive self-criticism are sometimes referred to as maladaptive perfectionism.
Depression and anxiety are constant companions, especially when your perfectionism is all-encompassing. You may try to convince yourself that you accomplish more because of it, but more likely, you feel paralyzed, stressed out, and defeated.
ADHD perfectionism is also a possibility. At first glance, ADHD and perfectionism may seem they have nothing in common. However, when individuals with attention difficulties are constantly told they “Need to try harder,” this can lead to paralyzing attempts at perfectionism.
Toxic Perfectionism Isn’t the Same as High Standards
Many people confuse perfectionism with high standards. They aren’t the same thing though. This becomes all the more apparent when you look at the results gained from having high standards versus perfectionistic ones.
High standards are healthy and provide you with the self-compassion and motivation to keep going and improving (while making plenty of mistakes). You want to do your best but also realize your results will never be perfect. This allows you to overcome life’s inevitable obstacles while consistently, although not always, getting the results you want. By not being so hard on yourself, you remain successful and productive with your life goals.
However, toxic perfectionism breaks you down. Because you expect zero errors, no matter what you do, it will never be good enough. You’ll criticize and demean yourself because being excellent is unacceptable if any hint of imperfection exists. Imagine having a boss like that or trying to serve clients or customers who refuse to accept excellence from you and instead demand complete and total perfection.
Expectations like that would be impossible to meet. So much that you’d have to quickly leave that scenario to protect your wellbeing. Why, then, do we tend to see this abusive dynamic when it exists in others but fail to notice when the “toxic boss” is ourselves instead?
In some ways, dealing with a toxic person can be easier. You can deny them access to your life to protect your wellbeing if things get bad enough. However, one doesn’t have that luxury when you are your “toxic boss!”
Additional Ways to Overcome Perfectionism
Different strategies to overcome perfectionism will work better for certain people. For that reason, it’s wise to have several techniques in your toolbelt. Being a perfectionist doesn’t have to be a lifelong “curse.” You can implement strategies that eventually transform you into a recovering perfectionist. Here are a few to consider.
Discover Positives: Our culture can be so mistake-avoidant that we miss out on the many benefits failure provides. Sure, reasonable efforts to avoid failure make sense, but disappointment is an inevitable result of trying. You will fall short at times if you try hard enough.
Look back on past letdowns and identify good results that came from them. If a particular failure feels too fresh and painful, ask a family member or friend to help. Often, others outside of your struggle will be able to offer sound insight since they aren’t so emotionally wrapped up in the disappointment you still may be nursing.
Find the Lessons: Yes, good things come from failure. You’ve already identified some of those. But that can be different from what you’ve learned as a result of your mistakes. Identify some of the life lessons you discovered as a result of not measuring up. Some of these valuable gains can’t be learned by any other means.
Remember Everyone Fails: Don’t let yourself feel insecure about others who appear to “have it all together.” It’s just an appearance. Remember we’re all just doing the best we can. It’s OK to be human because none of us are close to super-human.
Could You Use Some Help in Overcoming Perfectionism? Consider Counseling
Although the tips offered in this article are certainly beneficial in overcoming perfectionism, they’re not always enough by themselves. This is especially true when your self-criticism and need to be perfect are regularly ingrained in your thoughts and have been for a long time.
Working with a counselor can help you challenge those unrealistic expectations and replace them with attainable and compassionate ones. Over time, this results in a significant reduction in anxiety and depression.
Would you like to learn more about how the OC Relationship Center can help you with perfectionism treatment? If so, please get in touch with us or schedule an appointment. We look forward to meeting you!