• Melanie Lopes, MFT

8 Steps to Overcome Perfectionism


Do You Consider Yourself a Perfectionist?

Perfectionist is one of those words that gets tossed around a lot when you have high standards, you're detail-oriented, or you're really particular or "picky" when it comes to completing tasks.

A perfectionist is commonly seen as someone who strives for perfection in whatever they're doing. These are people who are often viewed as high-achieving or over-achieving, as well as motivated and meticulous.


But perfectionism is not just the desire to do things well and it often has little to do with the actual outcomes and achievements.


It really comes down to the way you think about yourself and it's linked to a deep need for validation, praise, recognition, or feeling valued.


As a perfectionist you have a tendency to be self-critical and you have a persistent concern about criticism from others. This often stems from a deep-seated view of yourself as “not good enough” which makes it hard to accept positive feedback or feel fully satisfied with your accomplishments.


This also comes with a strong fear of failure because failure would only reinforce the negative view you have of yourself AND it could lead to criticism from others, both of which would be difficult to bear.


Of course, perfectionism does have its benefits – it can be motivating and it probably has contributed to a lot of your success and achievements... but it also has its consequences.


Here are a few of the negative consequences of perfectionism:

  • Increased anxiety and stress; feeling pressure to meet high, sometimes unrealistic expectations

  • Feeling stuck, depressed, ashamed, frustrated with yourself

  • Strong fear of failure or making mistakes that leads to procrastination, avoidance, and missed opportunities

  • High sensitivity to criticism which can lead to misreading people and seeing criticism when it really isn’t there

  • Difficulty delegating or sharing tasks with others because you don’t trust others to do the task well enough and you don’t want to risk being viewed as imperfect or a failure

  • Fixating on mistakes and spending a lot of time and energy completing tasks and projects; tasks may feel like they are never quite complete because there are always more improvements to be made

  • Needing a lot of reassurance

  • Being seen as a "micro-manager" or "control freak"


Fortunately it is possible to overcome the less appealing parts of perfectionism - you can learn to calm your fears, quiet the inner critic that insists that you aren’t good enough, and feel better about yourself, flaws and all.


Now, if you consider yourself a perfectionist you might be feeling a little resistant to letting go of your perfectionism. You may see your perfectionism as a strength or asset that has helped motivate you to do well and achieve and it might stir up some concerns that you won’t be successful without it.


You may be wondering: If I let go of my high standards will I be more prone to making mistakes? Will I lose my motivation to achieve? Will I no longer achieve as much? Will I fail?

And then you wonder: If I change my ways, how would that look? What would people think? Will I still be recognized? Valued? Praised?


The thought of letting go of your perfectionism brings up the very fears that drive the perfectionism – the fear of failure and the fear of judgment.


Plus, it can feel like you are rejecting an important part of yourself. If your perfectionism is a valuable asset, why would you want to let it go?


But here’s something to consider...


You can be high-achieving without being a perfectionist.


And overcoming perfectionism does not mean rejecting or eliminating the perfectionist part of you. It’s about accepting that part of you, shifting how you view yourself and your value, and finding balance.


The perfectionist part of you will continue to chime in from time to time, and that’s ok. You can acknowledge it when it comes up, appreciate how this part of you has been helpful, and you can decide when you want to listen to it and when you want to ask it to step aside.


You can begin by paying close attention to when your perfectionist tendencies are showing up and how it’s impacting you:

  • Is it motivating you?

  • Is it helping you reach your goal?

  • Are you feeling more stressed, anxious, or worried?

  • Are you feeling overwhelmed and incapable of moving forward?

  • Are you procrastinating or avoiding doing something?

  • Are you feeling stuck and frustrated with yourself or others around you?

Once you can recognize the impacts when they arise, you can then decide whether or not you want to make a change.


Here's how to get started:

Shift your attitude toward yourself

Notice how you are viewing yourself, what you are thinking and saying to yourself, and what you believe about yourself. If you catch yourself being harsh, unrealistic, or critical, take the opportunity to try offering compassion and support for yourself.


Sometimes it can help to imagine what you would say to a friend or a loved one in your situation and then apply it to yourself. Try offering yourself kindness and soothing, rather than criticism and doubt.

Check your expectations

Often times, perfectionists set unrealistically high expectations for themselves, only to be met with disappointment when the expectations are not fully met. Or you may hold a belief that there will be catastrophic consequences if an expectation is not met, even when in reality the consequences are far less.


Check your expectations and try to gain some perspective by asking yourself “what’s realistic?” and “what’s really true?”

Aim for "good enough"

This can be a difficult practice for perfectionists, but a true game-changer. Check your priorities and decide when you need to focus a lot of effort on something and when you can give yourself a break. For situations that are lower priority, determine what would be a “good enough” effort, aim for that, and then move on and see how that feels.


You’ll find that this practice can be really liberating and can be particularly helpful in situations when you are feeling stuck. It creates a forward momentum and can help you feel a sense of accomplishment at the same time.

Do an inventory of positive and negative feedback

Perfectionists often are so focused on avoiding failure and judgment that they don’t recognize and take in positive feedback as readily. Take note of the positive feedback that you receive. Write it down so you can see it in front of you.


You may be surprised to find that you receive more positive feedback than you realized. Allow yourself to soak it in and know that others are noticing your efforts.


Weigh the risks and be realistic

What’s the worst that could realistically happen? Then plan how you might deal with the worst case scenario. This can help you feel more confident in your ability to cope with the potential consequences and prepare you to keep trying and keep moving toward your goals.


Take a risk and prepare for the consequences

There is nothing wrong with being cautious and careful, but there often comes a point when you have to take a risk in order to move forward. It doesn’t need to be a giant risk, but simply the risk of doing something imperfectly or making a mistake.

Of course there are situations when making a mistake can have dire consequences, so caution and precision are important, but this is where keeping things in perspective can come in handy.

Take responsibility and talk yourself through your mistakes

If you do end up making a mistake, take responsibility for it, rather than looking for someone else to blame, and figure out what you can learn from it. Talk yourself through it (I did the best I could under the circumstances, I can do better next time, I’m human and I will make mistakes, etc.) and forgive yourself so that you can move forward without getting stuck on the mistake itself and worrying about what other people may think.

Remember to have compassion for yourself through the process of change

There is no "perfect" way to overcome perfectionism and this process takes time. You are working toward changing long-standing habits and forming new ones so be kind to yourself and keep learning from what you’re experiencing.

By making the effort to overcome your perfectionism, you can experience the relief that comes from less stress and less pressure on yourself, as well as less worry and fear of failure and judgment.

You can change the way you view yourself and your mistakes, looking at things with greater perspective and from a more realistic, rather than catastrophic, standpoint.

You can feel more confident in yourself and willing to take risks which can in turn bring about more opportunities for success and personal growth.

And you can take pride in your accomplishments and experience more satisfaction in your life and in your relationships.


Need a little extra help with managing anxiety & stress and being kinder to yourself?

Check out the online course:

Learn skills in stress & anxiety management, self-compassion, and building resilience to get your life back on track.

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© 2019 by Melanie Lopes.

Therapist in Oakland, CA

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