You’re Only Human: How to Manage Perfectionism

Do you ever feel like you can’t stop working on something until it’s perfect and not just almost perfect but ACTUALLY perfect? Well, perfection is a subjective abstract. What one perceives as perfect may not be perfect to another. By definition, perfect means “to make (something) completely free from faults or defects, or as close to such a condition as possible and having all the required or desirable elements, qualities or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be.” Striving for perfection can actually be healthy or unhealthy depending on what you take from that definition. If your goal is to simply do your best and work to your potential, then that is the form of perfectionism that can be self-motivating and drive you to achieve successful outcomes. However, if your goal is to be without faults and flaws at all times, then that is the form of perfectionism that can be toxic and actually hinder your success. You may become extremely focused on avoiding failure that it inadvertently contributes to negative experiences, stress, anxiety, and never feeling satisfied or content in life.

Perfectionism primarily arises from internal pressures, such as the fear of failure or judgment from others. Core beliefs such as “I’m not good enough” contribute to perfectionism and vice versa. In addition to internal pressure, social comparisons and expectations also play a role in the development of perfectionism. With the increasing usage of social media, we compare ourselves to others based on false and unrealistic appearances because we tend to present our best selves on social media giving the illusion of having the absence of flaws. Therefore, we begin to strive toward unrealistic ideals and are left never feeling content or satisfied. We forget to celebrate our little successes along the way and discredit or simply shrug off any compliments we may receive because we don’t think of ourselves as successful until we reach perfection and that is something we may never reach depending on what we define perfection as. This contributes to feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and worthlessness. We become very self-critical and blame ourselves for every little mistake we make which only diminishes our own motivation to try again. This can also lead to procrastination or giving up on our goals due to a fear of failure.

Perfectionism tends to present itself in various ways. Self-oriented perfectionism involves unrealistic ideals to appear perfect without flaws whereas other-oriented perfectionism involves imposing unrealistic standards onto others. Additionally, socially-prescribed perfectionism comprises of the perception that others (parents, teachers, friends, significant others) expect perfection from us. Regardless of the type of perfectionism, it can present itself in various different domains in life as well such as, work or school, relationships or friendships, environmental surroundings, physical health, athletics, physical appearance, speech, etc. Perfection, as an abstract is nearly impossible in reality, therefore it can lead to a lot of other mental health issues. Procrastination, toxic comparisons, irrational core beliefs, cognitive distortions, feelings of unworthiness, stress and low self-esteem typically precede and accompany symptoms of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and eating disorders.

On the other hand, perfectionism can be adaptive when accompanied with a realistic and healthy mindset. There is a difference between determination to achieve goals and expecting nothing less than perfection. Perfectionism can contribute to working hard when you desire growth, enjoy being challenged, and have good problem-solving skills. In order to better manage your perfectionistic tendencies, it would help to let go of constant comparisons of yourself to others. Everyone is on their own timeline and path in life. You can’t compare your chapter 1 to someone else’s chapter 20. Additionally, practicing mindfulness by being in the present moment without judgment can help you accept yourself where you’re at by acknowledging your little achievements along the way which motivates you to continuing moving forward instead of being harsh on yourself when things don’t always go as planned. It’s about practicing gratitude while at the same time working towards your goals and giving yourself the permission to adjust your goals if needed. Practicing some self-compassion by being more kind to yourself and challenging negative self-talk can help with replacing irrational thought patterns with more realistic thoughts. Experiences in life can still be worthwhile even if they aren’t always perfect.

If you feel as if you have perfectionistic tendencies that are interfering with your functioning and causing daily stress, it may be good to know that those tendencies can be changed. It’s absolutely possible to adapt to having healthier expectations in regard to your personal goals and standards in life. Please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services at 407-443-8862 and one of our trained and experienced mental health counselors will be happy to help you achieve the life you want to live.


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