Is overcoming perfectionism something you should consider? Plenty of people view ‘perfectionism’ as a positive trait to possess. And, if not taken to extremes, a little extra attention to detail can help you be successful or even safe in life.
But sometimes, that over-attention to detail becomes too strong, which causes all sorts of problems. Toxic perfectionism can lead to burnout, whether at home, work or in overall life. Constantly holding yourself to such high standards becomes difficult.
Unhealthy perfectionism also accomplishes the opposite of its intended purpose. People try so hard at succeeding that they, ironically, struggle to complete basic or larger tasks alike. They also generally procrastinate because those high standards start to feel impossible.
Are you starting to think that maybe your perfectionism is getting in the way of your best life? That could certainly be the case since all that extra, unwarranted attention to detail robs you of time and energy that could be spent in other vital life areas. You don’t have to be discouraged if you recognize unhealthy perfectionistic tendencies in your life though.
Here are some thoughts on how to deal with perfectionism.
Observe When Perfectionism is Unhealthy
One of the keys to overcoming perfectionism is realizing when it’s interfering with your life in undesirable ways. Toxic perfectionism is sometimes referred to as maladaptive perfectionism, while healthy attention to detail is called adaptive perfectionism.
Many people with unhealthy perfectionistic tendencies tend to wear it like a badge of honour. They are willing to put themselves through so much to accomplish specific tasks or goals even though it takes them in the opposite direction of success.
Because of this, people characterized by perfectionism struggle to see when their over-attention to detail weighs them down. They may attribute their difficulties to other life stressors rather than the real culprit of maladaptive perfectionism. Indeed, other life challenges could be interfering, but regularly unchecked perfectionism can also cause enormous amounts of stress and anxiety. So, that first step is to say, “Hey, maybe this perfectionism isn’t helping me as much as I sometimes imagine it is.”
High Standards or Toxic Perfectionism
Another key aspect of overcoming perfectionism is learning to differentiate between toxic perfectionism and high standards. Many of us go through life imagining these two are the same, but they are not.
Although they still take plenty of effort to meet, high standards are obtainable. You’re able to regularly rise to those expectations. As a result, that encourages and energizes you to continue accomplishing your goals with excellence.
Yes, your standards are challenging, but they’re not unscalable. Somewhere between being an imperfect human being and someone who needs to accomplish tasks with great skill, you learn to strike a balance.
However, unlike with high standards, toxic perfectionism does not have reasonable expectations attached to it. There is a strong link between perfectionism and anxiety because of this. Those tasks and goals must be accomplished with “superhuman abilities” rather than with excellence.
Perfectionistic individuals struggle with self-compassion, doling out impossible-to-meet expectations for themselves. And unlike those who are energized by their challenging but meetable standards, they are regularly discouraged, burned out, unmotivated and possibly even depressed. It’s just hard to regularly live under the crushing weight of toxic perfectionism for very long.
Rethinking a Failure-Avoidant Culture
Much of the perfectionistic pressure we go through comes from within. One of the reasons therapy for toxic perfectionism is so valuable is because you confront these unhelpful thoughts. You gradually dismantle maladaptive perfectionism’s power through therapy, which can radically transform your life.
But unhealthy perfectionistic pressures can also come from outside of our negative internal dialogues. Our culture can place plenty of pressure on us to be “perfect.” There can be this idea that failing or making mistakes is a terribly bad thing. While we certainly need to be wise and avoid making unnecessary mistakes, some are still inevitable.
A toddler doesn’t learn to walk by being afraid of looking silly on their “sea legs.” They start walking after an awful lot of crawling, stumbling, falling, and holding onto chairs and other objects for support. They succeed at walking because they instinctively want to learn the skill more than they’re worried about messing up.
In many ways, life isn’t much different for toddlers learning to walk than it is for adults doing their best to navigate life’s complexities. We do the best we know-how at the moment, but there’s still a considerable learning curve professionally and in our relationships with family and friends. That vast need for additional learning and growth exists our entire lives too.
Putting ourselves out there enough to fail is to learn, and learning brings progress. Improvement means less anxiety and better results. Placing so much perfectionistic pressure on ourselves tends to make us failure averse though. We don’t take enough risks or mess up enough to learn. And that makes us less competent than we could be and more anxious.
So, don’t be fooled by false narratives or social media posts that only show someone else’s highlights or successes. Instead, embrace learning and growth with all its inevitable bumps along the way.
In his “Psychology Today” article entitled How to Overcome Perfectionism, Robert L. Leahy Ph.D. shares the following:
“Keep in mind that making progress, not perfection holds true in all areas of your life. Depression is often characterized by the intolerance of what is real about all of us—that we are imperfect but improvable.”
Need Help with Overcoming Perfectionism?
If so, you don’t have to handle anxiety and perfectionism alone. The Relationship Centre can help you discover proven ways to cope with perfectionism. Through therapy, you’ll learn what causes perfectionism in your life. You’ll also discover how to gradually change perfectionistic thinking into mindsets that are more useful.
Also, keep in mind if you are an unusually driven person, you could be struggling with high-functioning anxiety. Toxic perfectionism and high-functioning anxiety have many similarities. OCD and perfectionism are also a concern for some.
If you’d like to find out more about perfectionism treatment, please get in touch. You are also welcome to schedule an appointment with us.