Is Perfectionism Getting The Best Of Me?

It took me longer than I care to admit to think of how to word that title. Why, you ask? Perfectionism. 

It is not a perfect title. But does it get the job done? Yes. 

Does this sound familiar? Do you try to be the perfect, people-pleasing, “everyone has to like me” human? Have you been described as an over-achiever, or do you tend to obsess over small details and mistakes you’ve made?

Time after time in sessions, clients discuss how challenging it is for them to manage their perfectionism. Realistically though, you are going to get things wrong. You are human, after all. 

Perfectionism is not the same as striving to be the best version of yourself. Striving toward growth and success is healthy! However, perfectionism is a limiting behavior. It is more about the need to be perfect, or the need to appear perfect. Trying to be perfect puts you under greater stress, makes tasks take way longer than necessary, and can contribute to increased anxiety. Perfectionism is often the result of trying to live up to some standard you have set for yourself, and it can be motivated by fear and insecurities about how others might perceive you.

Ways to Manage Perfectionistic Tendencies

1. Start by being honest with yourself about when you’re engaging in perfectionistic behavior. Notice when you take extra long to complete a task or have added more onto a task because it “needs to be just right,” or if you’re overthinking ways to speak to someone so it will “come out perfectly.”

2. Once you acknowledge that you’re doing it, identify what might be underlying these behaviors. For instance, is it a case of “what if’s” getting in the way? (i.e. What if it’s not good enough…what if they don’t like me…what if I fail…and the list goes on and on)

3. Allow those thoughts to come and go. We have a tendency to try and push all our negative thoughts away, to get rid of them because they are uncomfortable or we “shouldn’t” be thinking that way. This only leads to the thoughts becoming stronger and getting even more in your way.

For instance, if I told you right now – Do not think about a pink elephant. Whatever you do, no matter what, DO NOT THINK ABOUT A PINK ELEPHANT.

What are you thinking about right now? Did a pink elephant come into your mind at all while reading that? Of course!

So, instead of trying so hard to push our thoughts out of our head, just allow them to be there, and allow them to pass by. We do not need to give them so much attention, they are simply thoughts. Now, this is a practice and it will not go perfectly (see what I did there?), but it is a practice that is well worth it in order to give your thoughts less power over you.

4. In the amazing book “The Gifts of Imperfection,” Brene’ Brown writes “I am a recovering perfectionist and an aspiring ‘good enoughist.’” Check in with yourself by asking “Is this good enough?” instead of “Is this perfect?” These simple check-ins can help to reframe how you’re thinking about a project, task, or interaction, and can provide you with a more realistic goal.

5. Practice self-compassion. Self-compassion does not mean ignoring your faults, it means being gentle and understanding toward yourself when you are struggling or feeling inadequate, instead of judging yourself so harshly or attempting to ignore your pain entirely. For example, ask yourself “How would I treat my best friend right now if they were struggling with this?” and begin treating yourself in the same way.

If any of this resonates with you, you may find it helpful to work with a therapist to change these habits and delve deeper into what is underneath these learned behaviors. It is possible to learn healthier ways to become the best version of yourself, as the fully imperfect human being that you are.

As always, feel free to contact me if you have any questions or if you’re considering becoming a new client. I’d love to hear from you!

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