Perfectionism doesn’t make you feel perfect; it makes you feel inadequate – Maria Shriver.
While having high standards can motivate you to reach your peak level of performance (ask any Olympic athlete), there’s a caveat – it can be a symptom of a greater problem. Perfectionists set impossible standards and become obsessed with achieving one flawless performance after another. Instead of internalizing the myth that everything should be perfect, let’s learn how to stop being a perfectionist and value our self-worth.
What Is a Perfectionist?
While many know perfection is an impossible goal, those who battle with perfectionism struggle to release the belief they can be perfect. Perfectionists (a personality trait with behavioral tendencies) place excessive pressure to perform, have strict expectations, and rigid thinking about how to achieve their often unrealistic or non-negotiable goals. When they fail to maintain their standard of perfection, they often feel worthless, and ashamed. Having a narrow definition of success, their abilities, and the world around them sets them up for a vicious cycle of never living up to their perceived potential.
16 Signs You’re a Perfectionist
Many perfectionists often view their tendencies to achieve as beneficial, rather than realizing they’re in a race they’ll never win. Increasing your awareness about the signs of perfectionism will help you overcome your expectations to embrace the positive aspects of who you are.
Common signs include:
- Difficulty making decisions
- Seeking reassurance
- All or nothing thinking
- Fixating on mistakes
- Unrealistic standards
- Failure to delegate
- Struggle to complete projects or tasks
- Obsessive attention to detail
- Hyper-focused on results
- Low self-esteem
- Self-confidence depends on accomplishments or others perception
4 Dangers of Being a Perfectionist
In an achievement-fueled society that praises perfectionism as a reward and criticizes perfectionists for having ‘type-A’ tendencies, learning about its pitfalls will help you overcome perfectionism without feeling like you can’t conform to the double standard.
1. Perfectionism coexists with other mental disorders
The compulsory desire to strive for unrealistic expectations leads to co-existing mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, self-harm, hoarding, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, post-traumatic disorder, burn-out, and even suicide.
2. The perfection of consumption
Perfection triggers our human desire to consume and tricks us into believing happiness is a byproduct of more money, success, and power. The obsession of wanting it all can be soul-crushing when you learn that striving for perfection does not leave you satisfied or happy.
3. Toxic thought patterns
Perfectionism at its worst can create distorted thought patterns that lead to barriers that prevent you from taking risks, trusting yourself, procrastinating, losing opportunities, avoiding challenges, and restricting creativity.
4. Interpersonal relationships
The desire to be perfect also negatively affects relationships, marriages, and friendships. Perfectionistic traits often dominate a desire to develop healthy communication patterns, disclose insecurities, and find mutual ground, leading to conflict.
How to Stop Being a Perfectionist: 10 Tips
1. Stop comparing
Perfectionists often battle with feelings of inadequacy and are more prone to social comparison – scrutinizing what others are doing and believing they’re behind. Instead of comparing, challenge your negative self-judgments by developing your purpose and cultivating a sense of meaning. When you view your life from a big picture perspective, you’re able to foster a self-compassionate outlook.
2. Reframe how you set standards
Perfectionism triggers statements such as, ‘Nothing I do is acceptable’, ‘I can’t ever achieve my goals’, and ‘I hate myself for making mistakes’. Reframe your thoughts to ‘I haven’t accomplished my goals yet’, ‘I can make mistakes and still succeed’, and ‘I am working towards my goals’’. Repeating encouraging statements improves how you think about yourself and your performance without overwhelming yourself with achieving the impossible.
3. Practice acceptance
Building awareness of your perfectionistic tendencies and accepting them without judgment helps you separate from them. Instead of denying what is happening, which only feeds self-criticism, acceptance helps you face your fears, and deal with them in positive ways. It also fosters self-compassion, and forgiveness which disempowers perfectionism – triple win!
4. Identify your strengths
If you battle with perfectionistic tendencies, you probably spend a lot of time focusing on your setbacks and limitations. But where are your strengths? What do you do well in life, particularly at work and within your relationships? Identifying your strengths builds confidence and increases resilience. They also point to your true nature, which means they don’t depend on success.
5. Evaluate your perfectionism
Are perfectionistic traits derailing your progress or helping you succeed? Reflect on how your perfectionism has helped you in life. After sitting with it, you might see that it increases your stress, prevents you from taking risks, hurts your relationships, and worsens your self-criticism – all negative outcomes that our inner critic often hides.
6. Your thoughts aren’t reliable
When negative self-talk is loud, it can be challenging to ignore. But your thoughts, no matter how strong or relentless they seem, aren’t a reliable portrayal of your reality. Recognize that your beliefs about your shortcomings, and your performance, are merely thoughts and do not determine your future.
7. Detach from your inner critic
Gaining control over your inner critic is key to breaking the power perfectionism has over you. When you notice your negative thoughts, take a deep breath, acknowledge the lies your critic is ruminating, and repeat, ‘The thought I’m having is not true’. Practicing awareness of your thought patterns will help you replace self-criticism with self-compassion and gradually learn how to stop being a perfectionist.
8. Mindfulness over mindlessness
Striving for perfection breeds mindless behaviors that keep you obsessing about the future instead of enjoying the present moment. Shift your attention to the world around you and use your senses to observe sights, sounds, scents, and textures. It will prevent you from overidentifying with self-judgment and self-criticism when you practice being and not becoming.
9. Embrace failure
While failure is key to personal development, take small steps towards making mistakes. For instance, try practicing a new skill like baking a cake. Distract yourself with mindfulness until the result, and reward yourself for taking on a new challenge. Often your perceived worst-case scenarios don’t happen, and you might have more confidence to try something more challenging.
10. It’s okay to receive support
Overcoming perfectionism is a gradual process, and can be challenging to cope with on your own. Developing a support system, or seeking help from a therapist can help you target your thoughts, beliefs, the restrictions you’ve placed on yourself, and teach you how to stop being a perfectionist.
Healing from perfectionism doesn’t mean you have to settle, or give up your ambition. It instead teaches you that you can achieve your goals without being perfect, and without the accompanying self-criticism. Take it one step at a time, and remind yourself of the things in your life that bring you joy!