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When Perfectionism Becomes Paralyzing


Last week we discussed embracing our imperfections. This week we are talking about perfectionism, and when it can become debilitating. Often when people think of perfectionism they think of someone striving to be perfect at everything, but people who struggle with perfectionism aren’t always trying to be flawless. Most of the time when we discuss perfectionistic qualities, what we are describing is an individual with unrealistic expectations, rigid thinking patterns, and the constant experience of negative consequences associated with specific standards not being met. When someone struggles with perfectionism, they may be very achievement-oriented and have a habit of setting unrealistically high standards. When these expectations are not met, they become disappointed, frustrated, and discouraged by themselves and others.


While there is nothing wrong with setting goals for yourself, it does become problematic when the goals are typically impractical or idealistic. The excessive need to reach a goal that is not realistic can impede your level of self-worth, as self-defeating thoughts take over. This kind of pressure on yourself and others can leave you feeling overwhelmed, on edge, and stressed out.


It is possible to struggle with perfectionism in one area of your life and not another. For example, some people struggle with perfectionism at work, constantly creating difficult deadlines for themselves, overloading themselves with extra work duties, and never learning to say “No” and create healthy boundaries. That same person can come home from work and have very low standards in the household, being content doing the bare minimum amount of chores, thinking “It’s clean enough” or “That can wait until later”. Some areas that people do struggle with perfectionism include: work, home, relationships, hygiene/appearance, health and fitness, and sports.


Individuals that have perfectionistic traits may also struggle with anxiety, or even obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some behaviors associated with perfectionism include: excessive checking, excessive organizing, list-making, correcting others, procrastinating, avoiding, and reassurance-seeking. They also struggle with cognitive distortions such as: black-and-white thinking, catastrophizing, “shoulding” & “musting”, and jumping to conclusions.


Some helpful tips to try if you are having a difficult time with perfectionism include:


1) Allowing yourself to make mistakes. Try something new and honor the mistakes you make along the way. Our mistakes are what help us to learn and grow. If there is a new hobby you have been avoiding, but you find you have a spark of interest in—schedule a day to try it out! Notice your reaction to mistakes you make along the way and try to not linger on them for too long.

2) Noticing and altering your negative self-talk. Sometimes we don’t even notice when we are beating ourselves up; sometimes it takes other people to point it out to us. Be your own cheerleader and talk yourself up, especially when you notice negative self-talk taking over. Thoughts like, “I just can’t do this” can become our reality unless we challenge those thoughts. Remind yourself that everyone started at step one when they learned something new, and even if you think you can’t do it right away, allow yourself to practice and celebrate the progress.

3) Practicing “good enough”. What does “good enough” look like to you? Do you imagine a big red C on a paper? Do you imagine a folded fitted sheet crumpled up in the linen closet? Maybe we didn’t get an A on everything, but a C technically is passing, so is that good enough? The fitted sheet you spent twenty minutes trying to fold didn’t turn out perfect, but it is clean and tucked away…is that good enough? Practice being okay with good enough, even if you have the nagging thought in the back of you mind that “It could be better”.

4) Setting realistic goals. Are your goals SMART goals? Meaning are they specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based? Setting SMART goals may help you adjust your expectations. If you are creating goals that are not achievable, try adjusting them. Over time you should start to see a noticeable difference in the goals you are completing, as well as your self-esteem as you build confidence in achieving these goals.


Many people wonder what the root cause of perfectionism is and the truth is that there are many possible causes. If you are struggling with perfectionism and would like to uncover the root cause or explore perpetuating factors, it may be time to schedule an appointment with a licensed therapist to discuss and to learn ways to overcome paralyzing perfectionism. Call 253 Therapy and Consult today for a free consultation and let us pair you with a therapist that we believe would be the right fit for you.

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