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Overcoming Perfectionism: 10 Ways to Overcome Toxic Perfectionism

Perfectionism pays off … sometimes.

A little bit of perfectionism can improve the quality of your work, and life in general as long as you don’t let it get out of hand.

But what happens when perfectionism gets too extreme?

Perfectionists often become procrastinators, trying to avoid making mistakes.

They often develop various types of anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, and other psychological and physical ailments.

It was even shown that adolescents who suffer from perfectionism have a higher rate of suicide.

If you:

* believe you have to be the best in everything you do,

* feel horrible when you make mistakes, or

* refrain from trying if you’re not outstanding at something,

then you might be a perfectionist.

A good cost/benefit analysis can show how perfectionism exacts a terrible toll.

But if not perfect, does that mean you would become a sloth with no standards at all?

The alternative of letting go of the need to be perfect is not the other extreme!

In this article you’re going to learn how to overcome toxic perfectionism.

Ready? Let’s get started!

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What Perfectionism Really Is? Overt and Covert Perfectionism

Overt Perfectionism

Overt or visible perfectionists are born with perfectionism tendencies.

They are more likely to enjoy order and structure from an early age, which is perfectly healthy.

These tendencies are not attributable to low self-esteem or insecurities.

When perfectionism becomes a problem?

If the child also develops insecurity as a response to painful life experiences, the perfectionism tendencies can intensify and become a coping mechanism the child uses to deal with not feeling loved or good enough, leading to a lifetime pattern of perfectionism.

It is not unusual for the overt perfectionist to appear perfect in one area and out of control in another. For example, work may be flawless while home is chaotic.

Overt perfectionists are usually aware of their compulsive behavior. They may have a desire to loosen up, but it’s difficult for them to let go of control.

Covert Perfectionism

Covert, or “closet,” perfectionists are not easy to identify.

Their perfectionism tendencies can be more pronounced in their thinking than in specific behaviors.

They may struggle with intrusive thoughts like “I should be perfect,” but their actions rarely correlate.

Their perfectionism is a well-kept secret.

They usually fail to verbalize perfectionist thoughts and may even brag about “not caring what other people think,” or use self-deprecating humor to deal with their discomfort with their perceived personal failings.

Covert perfectionists struggle with negative self-talk, defeatist thinking, and in some cases, self-loathing. The slightest failure or misstep can cause them to lapse into depression.

perfectionism signs

Can Perfectionism Be Cured? 10 Ways to Temper Perfectionism

#1. Make a List of The Benefits and Pitfalls of Perfectionism

The decisions to become less perfect can be a difficult one. Making a list of the pros and cons of perfectionism can make it easier for you to make that decision:

1. Write a list of all that your perfectionism provides and another one of all that your perfectionism takes from your life.

2. Rate each benefit and pitfall on a scale of 1 to 5 according to its overall impact on your life.

3. Once you finish, count each list’s score.

The following is an example:

Benefits of Being a PerfectionistPitfalls of Being a Perfectionist
1. It makes me feel superior at times . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
2. It makes me feel in control . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
3. My life is often orderly and structured . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
4. I accomplish a lot in a little time . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
1. I don’t have enough time for myself because I’m always doing . . . . . . . .4
2. I can become rigid and critical with my loved ones when I try to be perfect . . . . . . . . . .  . .5
3. The stress that comes with perfectionism is affecting my mental and physical health greatly . . . . . . . . .  . .5
4. I often end up taking on responsibility that isn’t mine. . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Total: 9 pointsTotal: 18 points

#2. Create a List of Individual Values

To help you make the decision of letting go of perfectionism, consider the first exercise and think about how important the benefits are for you.

Ask yourself if these benefits are in line with your values and what you think is important in life.

The following are some examples. You want to choose and add the ones that are most relevant to you.

Individual Values

  • Peace of mind
  • Emotional security—that you are okay
  • Gratitude for who you are and what you have
  • Quiet time for yourself
  • Having faith in something more than yourself
  • Finding and using your gifts
  • Enjoying life, having fun, and playing
  • Taking risks to learn new things
  • Being a loving person
  • Being real and authentic
  • Being physically healthy
  • Learning and growing

Friendships and Family Relationships Values

  • Regular, positive contact with loved ones
  • Showing vulnerabilities to loved ones
  • Showing up for others
  • Asking for what you need
  • Being able to say no when you need to
  • Having fun and adventure

Intimate Relationships

  • Being equal
  • Being interdependent
  • Validating yourself and your partner
  • Being open and honest about who you are and what you need
  • Giving and receiving affection every day
  • Being vulnerable and authentic
  • Show up for yourself and your partner when it matters
  • Commitment
  • Sharing successes and painful times

Work, Career, or School

  • Finding balance with your personal life
  • Working in a setting that fits well with your personality
  • Using your gifts and talents
  • Being paid what you are worth
  • Trying and learning new things something new
  • Asking for what you need

If you find it hard to choose the most important values to you, try asking yourself, “If I had one year to live, what would be most important to me?”

Related: 72 Journal Prompts For Self-Discovery and Self Connection

#3. Give Up Your Perfectionism One Day At A Time

You don’t have to do this perfectly.

Making the decision to give up your perfectionism is something you will do many times over in the days and months ahead.

This is an overall goal to reduce perfectionism in your life and start living in the middle.

If you still aren’t sure if this is an issue for you, try asking people who know you and care about you if they think your perfectionism is a problem.

Related: 10 Proven Ways to Make Any Change Quick and Permanent


Talk to a therapist anytime, anywhere

Find a therapist from Online-therapy.com’s network. Your personal therapist will be by your side – from start to finish. Guiding you to a happier you through the sections, worksheets, messaging at any time and live sessions (available as video, voice only or text chat).

Plans start at $31,96 per week + 20% off your first month.


Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough? that we should try again.

Julia Cameron

#4. Identify The Underlying Problem

Perfectionism is not the problem, rather it’s a coping mechanism that served you well in the past, but it is no longer helpful.

Perfectionism as a compulsive pattern is not present at birth.

It develops as a response to stress, which is then reinforced through repetition and approval from other people.

Several issues can increase the likelihood of developing perfectionism:

1. Lack of Trust

When parents fail to meet the child’s basic needs for safety, intimacy, and consistency, the child learns that he cannot trust his environment the way it is, and might try to learn to control it.

As a result he might work to find behaviors that work to get the attention he seeks.

The need to control is always a response to fear of abandonment, which from the child’s perspective means death.

2. Lack of Identity

Discovering who we are usually starts with our parents mirroring our personalities, interests, and physical attributes.

When the child isn’t allowed to be who he is with appropriate guidance and safety, the child has to be what is expected of him in order to feel connected to and accepted by his parents.

3. Shame

Shame is one greatest factor contributing to perfectionism.

As children, perfectionists may have been called names: worthless, loser, good-for-nothing, and worse. They might also have consistently heard statements such as:

“You’ll never be good enough.”

“Why can’t you be like your brother [or sister]?”

 “Why didn’t you get an A?”

“What will people think?”

“I’m so disappointed in you.”

Related: 10 Signs You Were Shamed In Childhood

When a child feels flawed, he needs to compensate for the sense of worthlessness.

As a result, he may work hard to become compliant and achieving to cover his inadequacies.

Related: How To Let Go Of Shame After Trauma?

Antidotes for a Shame Attack

1. Externalize. Talk about it or write it down, say to yourself, “I am not my shame. This is a feeling that will pass.”

2. Read or listen to helpful materials. Keep handy books and videos that has helped you before overcome a shame attack.

3. Postpone major decisions until you are in better shape. Don’t act on the pain.

4. Visualize yourself giving back any of the shame that does not belong to you. Imagine returning negative messages to those who gave them to you (e.g., parents, partners, bosses).

5. Practice self-care until you feel less vulnerable. Breathe, meditate, go outdoors, take walks, exercise, or get yourself a massage.

perfectionism quotes (5)

#5. Collect Evidence That Refutes Your Perfectionism

Try thinking about the people you admire, yet who make numerous mistakes over time.

Ask yourself, “When they make mistakes, do I suddenly see them as defective?” Doubtful.

Use the same standard for yourself.

#6. Start Doing and Enjoying Imperfect Things

As a perfectionist, you might find it hard to come up with ideas of imperfect activities you can do more of.

The following is a list of some examples:

  • Play old music and dance without worrying about how you look.
  • Play crazy games with a friend for fun, not competition.
  • Watch children’s movies or read children’s books.
  • Schedule “breathing breaks” several times during the day. Take a few deep breaths or do something enjoyable for a minute.
  • Choose a list of self-care activities and do one every day.
  • Deliberately leave something unfinished every day.
  • Simplify and do one thing at a time.

#7. Use Positive Affirmations

You may find it helpful to remind yourself of the following statements, each time you start to get hung up on perfectionism:

  • I am supposed to make mistakes—I was made that way.
  • It’s great to do well at things, but it’s unrealistic to expect that I have to be the best at everything.
  • No one can be good at everything, and sometimes it’s really fun to try and learn something new.
  • Everyone makes mistakes. It’s part of the learning process, and I need to face these mistakes and learn from them.
  • My humanness makes it easier for others to love me and reach out to me.
  • What I’m doing is good enough.

In other words, try to think in less extreme terms. A more balanced, realistic viewpoint is that it would be great to do things well, but that all humans make mistakes and so do you.

#8. Forgive Yourself and Others

Forgiving means we no longer try to change others, or if we do, we quickly realize the futility of it.

Forgiving also means that we let go of the blame and anger, stop playing the victim role, and take back control.

You forgive truly when you realize that the best amend or revenge, are when you become the best self you can be today and live your life fully.

#9. Building a Strong Support System

A combination of counseling or therapy, self-help materials, and a strong and ongoing support system can be the best formula to overcome perfectionism.

Work on opening up and asking for help from your close friends and safe family members.

Related: Struggling to Receive? 7 Steps to Open Up and Start Accepting Loved and Support

#10. Are You A Procrastinator?

If you’re also a procrastinator, here are some tips to help you overcome procrastination:

1. Deal with negative thoughts. Write down every negative thought that is preventing you from getting the task done. Get them out on paper and put them aside.

2. Clear your desk from other tasks. Make sure you have a clear view.

3. Choose a mantra. It must be one that speaks to you and calms you down easily.

4. Split big tasks into manageable tasks you can finish in a specific block of time.

FAQ

1. Is Perfectionism A Mental Disorder?

Perfectionism is not a mental disorder. It is a personality trait.

However, perfectionism may lead to other mental disorders like depression or anxiety.

Some people may use the terms “perfectionist” and “OCD” interchangeably. However, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by intrusive thoughts and/or repetitive behaviors, while perfectionism is a personality trait that’s characterized by high expectations and standards.

Conclusion

It is natural for us to strive to overcome our human imperfections.

No one likes to make mistakes or show their flaws.

And while there is nothing wrong with trying to be the best we can be, when perfectionism becomes a compulsion and not a choice, it becomes problematic.

Talk to a therapist anytime, anywhere

Find a therapist from Online-therapy.com’s network. Your personal therapist will be by your side – from start to finish. Guiding you to a happier you through the sections, worksheets, messaging at any time and live sessions (available as video, voice only or text chat).

Plans start at $31,96 per week + 20% off your first month.

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Overcoming Perfectionism 10 Ways to Overcome Toxic Perfectionism

References

  • Portions of this article were adapted from the book Overcoming Perfectionism: The Key to Balanced Recovery, © 1990 by Ann W. Smith. All rights reserved.

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