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Overcoming Perfectionism: Why It Matters and How to Do It

Do you beat yourself up when you make even the slightest mistake? Do you feel enormous pressure to act like a superhero in every situation? Do you spend lots of time trying to craft an ideal life on social media (even if your regular life feels like it's in shambles?)

If so, you may struggle with perfectionism, a chronic issue that often results in heightened anxiety, lack of confidence, and issues with control and procrastination. It's a complex problem, but there are ways to manage it. Here's what you need to know about overcoming perfectionism.

Understanding Perfectionism

When people imagine perfectionism, they usually think about the high-achieving, straight-A student who spends all night studying. Or, they picture the successful athlete or powerful boss who seems to do everything effortlessly.

But perfectionism can exist in seemingly "everyday people." Many perfectionists do not have impressive statuses or flashy lifestyles. That's because perfectionism lies along a spectrum of traits that often make you feel unworthy and incompetent.

Many times, perfectionism first emerges in childhood. For example, if your caregivers, teachers, or coaches placed high expectations on your behavior, you may have internalized their messages as the need to be perfect. Moreover, if love was conditional (meaning you only seemed to receive it when you did a good job), you likely learned that people only cared about you for what you do rather than who you are.

In addition, perfectionism can also result from a real or perceived failure. If you failed at something significant, it might have triggered immense guilt and shame. Therefore, perfectionism acts as a protective barrier against history repeating itself.

Coping With Perfectionism

Do you feel exhausted or overwhelmed by the standards you set for yourself? Do you tend to avoid new things because they fear of failure triumphs the benefits of potential success? Are you feeling consistently inadequate- even when others praise you?

If so, you may be struggling with perfectionism more than you realize. Some perfectionists don't realize the magnitude of their distress until they try to change their habits. Here are some tips for coping.

Identify Your Main Fears

Perfectionism is usually a defense mechanism against rejection and abandonment. We want to be "perfect" to receive love and adoration from others. We think doing a good job means that we will be rewarded with more happiness in life.

With that said, it's important to try challenging some of the fears you hold about your perfectionism. What if you were to fail again at something? What would it say about you or your character? How would you pick up the pieces and move on?

You may have entirely unrealistic fears about the worst-case scenario. That's why it's helpful to desensitize yourself to those outcomes. They could happen, but there's an even greater chance you have enough resilience to cope with them.

Stop Comparing

We often become perfectionistic when looking at how other people live their lives. However, we're all unique, and one person's path can (and should!) look different than yours!

Try to be mindful of your tendency to compare yourself to others. When you notice it happening, simply label the situation. First, acknowledge that you are comparing yourself to someone or something. Then, remind yourself of a realistic, positive affirmation like:

  • "I can be happy for that person and happy for myself."

  • "I am exactly where I need to be right now."

  • "I am making progress every day."

  • "My journey is uniquely my own."

  • "I am grateful for what I am learning each day."

You can also try to ground yourself with gratitude when you notice yourself struggling with the comparison game. Think about the blessings that you do have. When you focus on all the good parts of your life, you will feel less incomplete or insecure.

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Overcoming perfectionism requires releasing the need to "be an expert" or have it "all under control." It means accepting that life entails an inherent sense of ambiguity. You need to be comfortable making mistakes and learning from them.

Exposing yourself to potential failure can be one of the best remedies for treating perfectionism. So, think about trying something new. What about applying for that job that interests you? Or asking that person out on a date? What about signing up for a new class?

Keep in mind that rejection or discomfort may happen. But remember that experiencing those realities can be a good thing. The more comfortable you are with them, the less they scare you!

Final Thoughts

Overcoming perfectionism requires time and effort. You must be willing to recognize your triggers and proactively use new skills to release control in everyday life.

Having support during this time can help immensely. At the Mental Health House, we offer guidance, encouragement, and practical skills for individuals bettering their lives. We are here for you unconditionally. Contact us today to learn more!

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