In our fast-paced modern society, insisting on quality and striving for excellence is often seen as a character strength and an indication of a good work ethic. Having high standards is often seen as aspirational, self-improving, and having robust boundaries. But, if you are finding you set the bar so high that it’s really hard if not impossible to achieve your goals, then you may be a perfectionist. And I am sorry to be the one to tell you this, but you can’t win.
Perfectionism is linked to an array of mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-harming, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The ongoing stress of trying to be perfect also means you can experience physical symptoms such as headaches, insomnia, digestion issues, anxiety attacks and fatigue.
If the pressure of being perfect is having a negative impact on your life, please know that you are not alone and many others are going through the same things as you. The good news is perfectionism is totally treatable.
A great way to begin working on your perfectionist tendencies is to first work out where they come from. This is where the help of a counsellor can be invaluable. Usually perfection stems from one (if not more) of three places. The influence of your parents, anxiety, or low self-esteem.
If you are finding you can relate to any of the things I have said so far, here are some great tips on how you can start to work on your perfectionist tendencies:
1. Become aware of your thoughts. How are these thoughts affecting your behaviour? If you think, I’m never going to be able to do that well, does it prevent you from trying in the first place?
2. Fact check your thoughts. Where is the concrete evidence that you’re failing or that what you are doing isn’t great?
3. Start to change your negative self-talk. When you are able to identify your negative or unhelpful thoughts you can start to change them.
4. Allow yourself to make mistakes. Try something new and just see what that feels like. You might find the world doesn’t actually end if you make a mistake.
5. Practice acceptance of “Good enough”. This might feel hard to begin with but with all things worth doing it takes time and practice. You may need to lower your standards a little or pick your battles a little more carefully.
6. Have reasonable and achievable goals. Let yourself win a few! It is so satisfying ticking off a to do list or achieving things you set out to do. Try breaking down tasks into bite sized pieces to avoid overwhelm and make sure you don’t let impossible standards get in the way of success.
No matter the reasons for your perfectionism, if it’s making your life more stressful and less enjoyable these tips will help. A supportive counsellor (like me!) can help you overcome perfectionism through gaining awareness of your thoughts, then challenging them, show you how to alter your negative self-talk, embrace acceptance and most importantly allow you to see that you are actually good enough already!
As with all therapy, working with perfectionism is a process that will take time and patience. But I’m here to tell you, you can absolutely do this!