Author: Erica Preville, MSc, RP

In a world that often celebrates perfection, it’s easy to fall into the trap of striving for flawlessness in every aspect of our lives. Perfectionism, while seemingly admirable, can actually hinder our growth and well-being. As a psychotherapist, I have witnessed firsthand the toll that perfectionism can take on individuals. In this blog post, we’ll explore the nature of perfectionism, its underlying causes, and practical strategies to overcome it and embrace a more balanced and fulfilling life.

Understanding Perfectionism

Perfectionism is not merely a desire to excel or achieve high standards; it is an unrelenting pursuit of flawlessness combined with a fear of making mistakes. Those struggling with perfectionism often set exceptionally high standards for themselves and view any deviation from these standards as a personal failure. Approaching new tasks with such high standards can lead to chronic stress, anxiety, low self-esteem, and even depression.

Root Causes of Perfectionism

Perfectionism can stem from various sources, including:

  1. Early Childhood Experiences: Messages from parents, caregivers, or teachers emphasizing the importance of achievement and flawless performance can contribute to the development of perfectionistic tendencies.
  2. Cultural and Societal Pressure: Living in a society that places a premium on success, appearance, and achievement can reinforce the belief that anything less than perfection is unacceptable.
  3. Fear of Failure: Those experiencing perfectionism often equate making mistakes with failure and may go to great lengths to avoid it, even at the expense of your own personal well-being.
  4. Low Self-Worth: A deep-seated belief that one’s value is contingent upon meeting impossibly high standards can reinforce and continue the cycle of perfectionism.
  5. Need for Control: Sometimes we grew up in environments that felt out of our control, or our stress and anxiety makes us feel out of control. Perfectionism often gives us a false sense of control over our environment.

The Downfall of Perfectionism

While consistently striving for perfection can feel like it has many benefits, those who struggle with it tend to experience detrimental effects on mental and emotional well-being:

  1. Chronic Stress: The constant pressure to meet unattainable standards can lead to chronic stress, which can negatively impact physical health.
  2. Procrastination and Task Paralysis: Fear of not meeting one’s own lofty expectations can lead to inaction or avoidance of tasks altogether.
  3. Impaired Relationships: The need for perfection can strain relationships, as it may be difficult for perfectionists to accept imperfections in themselves and others.
  4. Limited Growth: Perfectionism can hinder personal and professional growth by discouraging experimentation, risk-taking, and learning from mistakes.

Strategies to Overcome Perfectionism

  1. Practice Self-Compassion: Replace self-criticism with self-compassion. Treat yourself with the same kindness, love, and understanding that you would offer to a dear friend.
  2. Set Realistic Goals: Aim for excellence, not perfection. Set achievable, realistic goals that allow for growth and learning.
  3. Reframe Mistakes: View mistakes as opportunities for growth and learning rather than as personal failures. Understand that they are a natural part of the human experience.
  4. Challenge All-or-Nothing Thinking:  All-or-nothing thinking around your accomplishments often perpetuates perfectionism. Adjusting all-or-nothing thinking to a more balanced perspective is particularly helpful. Perfection is an unattainable ideal, and that excellence comes in many forms

Can Therapy Help?

As mentioned above, perfectionism is known to be related to various childhood experiences, thinking patterns and beliefs about our overall worth. Therapy can support you to explore the causes that might be related to your perfectionism and help you to challenge and adjust these deeply held beliefs. All in all, science tells us that addressing perfectionism in therapy can lead to the experience of reduced stress, improved self-worth and improved wellbeing.

Enso Counselling provides perfectionism therapy in Burlington that can help you explore the roots of your perfectionism and support you to adjust the way you view yourself and your accomplishments. Ready to do the work? Book your free 15-minute consultation today. We can’t wait to hear from you!

Perfectionism may have its roots in well-intentioned aspirations, but it often leads to unnecessary stress and a diminished quality of life. By understanding its underlying causes, implementing practical strategies and potentially exploring it in therapy, you can learn to embrace imperfection and lead a more balanced, fulfilling life. In some ways, the beauty of being human is that we are perfectly imperfect. Your quirks, flaws and imperfections are what ultimately make you, you (and I bet you’re pretty great, just the way you are!).