Overcoming Perfectionism: How to Stop Being a Perfectionist

The Self-Abuse of Perfectionism can lead to Anxiety, Depression, and Low Self-Esteem

Overcoming Perfectionism: How to Stop Being a Perfectionist

Perfectionism is the relentless pursuit of an ideal, the never-ending quest for flawlessness, and the constant striving for a standard that is often impossible to achieve. While it may seem like a harmless personality trait that drives us to achieve great things, perfectionism can have a dark side.

This blog post will explore the dangers of perfectionism, how it can adversely impact mental health, and how it contributes to depression and anxiety. We'll also discuss solutions and treatments for overcoming perfectionism and finding balance in our lives.

For more, visit The Happiness Psychiatrist to explore all of our integrative services, from psychiatry to psychotherapy to personal coaching.

We treat a wide range of life concerns and conditions in addition to perfectionism, including: 

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • C-PTSD
  • OCD
  • Occupational Stress
  • Narcissistic Abuse 
  • Chronic Insomnia
  • Binge-eating Disorder
  • And More!

Ready to begin your journey to a happier, more fulfilled self? Contact us today, and discover how The Happiness Psychiatrist® can help!

Now, let’s take a look at how to overcome a serious roadblock to happiness: perfectionism. 

The Dangers of Perfectionism

Perfectionism may initially seem to be a desirable quality, motivating us to strive for high levels of achievement and success. However, the reality is often far from perfect. Perfectionism can lead to various issues, including:

  1. Procrastination: Paralyzed by the fear of not meeting our own unrealistic expectations, perfectionists often postpone or avoid starting projects altogether. This can hinder progress and create unnecessary stress.
  2. Burnout: Perfectionists are prone to overworking themselves in their pursuit of excellence. This can lead to physical and emotional exhaustion, which can have serious consequences for overall health and well-being.
  3. Relationship Struggles: Perfectionism can strain relationships with family, friends, and colleagues. A perfectionist's need for control, tendency to criticize, and unrealistic expectations can create tension and negatively impact interpersonal connections.
  4. Reduced Creativity: The fear of failure and the need for control can stifle creativity and hinder one's ability to think outside the box. This can limit a person's capacity to innovate, adapt, and grow in various aspects of life.
  5. Low Self-Esteem: When a perfectionist fails to meet their own impossibly high standards, they can suffer from feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth.

Perfectionism and Mental Health

The impact of perfectionism on mental health can be significant. Perfectionists often experience heightened levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. This can result from constantly feeling like they're not doing enough, not meeting their own expectations, and the belief that they are simply never good enough.

Fallout from perfectionism can result in two of the leading causes of mental health issues: 

  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Over 300 million people around the world live with anxiety, a number that has only increased in the wake of a global pandemic. In the U.S., over 5% of the adult population reported episodes of major depression

While no two cases are the same and root causes vary widely, perfectionism can often be a contributing factor to anxiety and depression, especially in school and work/occupational settings. Let’s take a closer look at how each of these two conditions are influenced by perfectionism.

Perfectionism and Anxiety

Perfectionism can contribute to anxiety by creating a cycle of constant worry and rumination. Perfectionists may worry about making mistakes, disappointing others, or failing to meet their own expectations. This can lead to a chronic state of hyperarousal, negatively affecting their mental health and overall well-being.

Perfectionism + Depression

When perfectionists consistently fail to meet their own extremely high standards, they may develop feelings of hopelessness and despair. This can contribute to the development of depressive symptoms or exacerbate existing depression. The constant feeling of not being good enough can be a significant risk factor for depression.

Vibrant art of a pink, yellow, and orange lilies and zinnias on a red background.
Perfectionism can lead to depression and anxiety, causing you to miss out on the good in life

Solutions and Treatments for Overcoming Perfectionism

Recognizing and addressing perfectionism is crucial for improving mental health and finding balance in life. There are several approaches you can take to combat perfectionism. These include:

  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  2. Mindfulness and Meditation
  3. Self-Compassion
  4. Setting realistic goals
  5. Seeking support
  6. Developing a growth mindset
  7. Building resilience
  8. Seeking professional help

Let’s take a closer look at each approach and how it can help you overcome perfectionism.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) 

CBT is an evidence-based psychotherapy that focuses on identifying and challenging negative thought patterns and behaviors. CBT can help individuals recognize and modify perfectionistic thoughts and beliefs, ultimately promoting healthier coping mechanisms and reducing anxiety and depression.

Its structured and goal-oriented approach empowers individuals to develop practical coping skills and strategies to manage their symptoms effectively. CBT has also proven to be a time-limited therapy, often yielding positive results in a relatively short period compared to some other therapeutic approaches. Its evidence-based nature, with numerous studies demonstrating its effectiveness, has made CBT a cornerstone in the field of psychology and a valuable tool for helping individuals regain control over their lives and improve their overall mental well-being.

Meditation and Mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness and meditation can help us become more aware of our thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. This heightened self-awareness can enable us to recognize our perfectionistic tendencies and learn to respond to them in healthier ways.

Mindfulness encourages us to stay present in the moment without judgment, allowing us to observe ourselves without the harsh self-critique that perfectionists often impose on themselves. By cultivating mindfulness, we can become more aware of the unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves and begin to detach from the relentless pursuit of perfection.

Meditation, a central component of mindfulness, provides a structured way for individuals to develop self-compassion and self-acceptance. Regular meditation practice allows us to distance ourselves from the constant need for flawless performance and instead focus on self-awareness and self-care. It teaches us to acknowledge imperfections without judgment and to cultivate a sense of self-worth that isn't contingent on external achievements. 

Through meditation, perfectionists can learn to let go of their paralyzing fear of failure (and success) and embrace a healthier, more balanced approach to their goals and endeavors. Over time, these practices can lead to a reduction in the negative impact of perfectionism on one's mental health, promoting greater well-being and a more relaxed and fulfilled life.

Self-Compassion as a Perfectionist

Developing self-compassion involves being kind and understanding towards oneself, especially when faced with failure or perceived inadequacies. Practicing self-compassion can help counteract the self-criticism and negative self-talk often associated with perfectionism. By fostering a more compassionate and understanding attitude towards oneself, individuals can learn to accept imperfections and reduce the impact of perfectionism on their mental health.

Setting Realistic Goals as a Perfectionist

Perfectionists often set unrealistic and unattainable goals for themselves, contributing to feelings of failure and disappointment. Learning to set achievable, specific, and time-bound goals can help individuals find balance and a sense of accomplishment without constantly striving for perfection.

By breaking down larger tasks into smaller, manageable steps, individuals can reduce the overwhelming pressure that often accompanies perfectionism. This approach allows for: 

  1. A sense of accomplishment
  2. Reinforcement of a positive feedback loop that promotes motivation and self-confidence
  3. Increased adaptability and resilience
  4. Recognition that setbacks and mistakes are a natural part of any endeavor 

Instead of viewing failures as catastrophic, individuals learn to see them as opportunities for growth and learning, gradually reducing the paralyzing fear of making mistakes that often plagues perfectionists. 

Ultimately, setting realistic goals helps individuals develop a healthier perspective on their capabilities, fostering greater overall well-being and satisfaction in both their personal and professional lives.

Seeking Support as a Perfectionist

Connecting with friends, family, or mental health professionals can provide valuable support for those struggling with perfectionism. Sharing experiences and discussing challenges can help individuals:

  1. Gain perspective 
  2. Develop coping strategies 
  3. Feel less isolated in their struggles

The majority of adults in the U.S. report struggling with some form of perfectionism, so the likelihood of a close friend or family member understanding what you are going through is high. Having a close support system like this can not only make handling your perfectionism more manageable, it can introduce you to new, valuable, and proven ways others have managed perfectionism.

Have you considered Group Therapy for perfectionism? Our Women’s Self-Compassion & Happiness Group meets weekly and is a wonderful adjunct to individual therapy. Learn how to overcome perfectionism, build the skill of self-compassion, and reconnect with your authentic self.

Abstract art containing an array of shapes and bright colors, from water droplets to seashells, highlighting the beauty of imperfectionism.
Overcoming perfectionism is not just good for your mental health; it can help you discover the beauty in imperfection.

Developing a Growth Mindset as a Perfectionist

Embracing a growth mindset means focusing on progress rather than perfection. By acknowledging that mistakes and setbacks are opportunities for growth and learning, individuals can foster a healthier approach to achievement and success.

Developed by psychologist Carol Dweck, the growth mindset refers to the belief that one's abilities and intelligence can be developed and improved through effort, learning, and perseverance. In contrast to a fixed mindset, where individuals believe that their traits and capabilities are static and unchangeable, a growth mindset fosters a more positive and adaptive approach to challenges and learning.

Individuals with a growth mindset tend to embrace challenges as opportunities for growth rather than as threats to their self-esteem. They see failures and setbacks as valuable learning experiences, not as indicators of their inherent inadequacy. This perspective encourages them to persist in the face of adversity, putting in the effort required to develop new skills and reach their goals. Moreover, those with a growth mindset are more inclined to seek out therapy and psychiatry, as they view these as a chance to grow and improve rather than as a harsh criticism of their capabilities as a human.

On a personal level, cultivating a growth mindset can enhance one's overall sense of well-being and help individuals pursue their aspirations with greater determination and enthusiasm. Ultimately, adopting a growth mindset empowers individuals to unlock their full potential and navigate life's challenges with a more optimistic and resilient outlook.

At The Happiness Psychiatrist®, we help adults cultivate a positive growth mindset and learn to let go of perfectionism. Reach out Today

Building Resilience as a Perfectionist

Developing resilience is crucial in overcoming perfectionism. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from setbacks and adapt to challenging circumstances. By building resilience, individuals can learn to accept failure as a natural part of life and a valuable opportunity for growth and learning, rather than as a devastating blow to their self-esteem.

Seeking Professional Help for Perfectionism

For many individuals, professional help may be necessary to address the underlying issues contributing to their perfectionism. A mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, can provide guidance and support in overcoming perfectionistic tendencies and managing associated mental health concerns.

Therapists and mental health professionals who specialize in treating perfectionism can help patients identify the roots of their disorder, whether they stem from childhood experiences, societal pressures, or other factors. By gaining insight into these origins, individuals can begin to challenge and reframe their perfectionistic thinking, replacing it with more realistic and self-compassionate perspectives.

Professional help also offers a safe and non-judgmental space for individuals to explore their fears of failure, rejection, or criticism, which often underlie perfectionism. Psychiatrists and psychotherapists can guide clients in:

  • Developing coping strategies
  • Stress management techniques
  • Self-esteem building exercises
  • Learning the skill of self-compassion

Additionally, therapy can provide ongoing accountability and support as individuals work towards setting and achieving more realistic goals and expectations for themselves. Overall, seeking professional help for perfectionism can be a life-changing endeavor, helping you break free from the destructive cycle of perfectionism and procrastination and lead to greater mental and emotional well-being.

Are you ready to begin your journey towards a better you? Contact The Happiness Psychiatrist today!

Overcome Your Perfectionism Today

Perfectionism can be a double-edged sword, driving us to achieve great things while also putting our mental health and well-being at risk. Understanding the dangers of perfectionism and how it contributes to anxiety and depression is essential for those seeking to find balance and fulfillment in their lives.

By exploring various solutions and treatments, including therapy, mindfulness, self-compassion, and goal-setting, individuals can learn to manage their perfectionistic tendencies and develop healthier coping strategies. Ultimately, overcoming perfectionism involves embracing imperfection, accepting that failure is a natural part of life, and focusing on personal growth and meaningful achievements. 💖

Remember, nobody is perfect, and striving for an unattainable ideal can be more harmful than helpful. Embrace your imperfections, practice self-compassion, and seek help when necessary. In doing so, you will be well on your way to a healthier, more balanced life.

Perfectionism is not good for the soul
The Hindu scripture The Bhagavad Gita encourages us to embrace imperfection

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  1. What to Expect from a Concierge Psychiatrist: A Guide to Personalized Mental Health Care
  2. What is Psychodynamic Therapy?
  3. Carl Jung’s Contribution to Psychology: Jung and Hinduism
  4. Healing Complex PTSD (C-PTSD)