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How to Ditch Perfectionism

I was sitting in a coffee shop with my friend, watching her scroll through Facebook. “I don’t want to deal with another summer. I can’t handle the bikini selfies.”

Summer is still several months away, but I understand the sentiment. On Facebook, everyone seems perfect. Even the photographs themselves are perfectly lit with photo editing software or phone apps that let you clear blemishes or play with exposure. Whether my friend and I are uncomfortable because of seemingly unattainable ‘yoga bodies’ or because destination weddings are a trend, perfection seems not only achievable, but expected.

Being a perfectionist can seem like the perfect faux put-down. It’s like the old job interview question where you’re expected to tell the interviewer your personal flaw. Perfectionism is always a go-to answer. I’m just too good, it seems to say in the background of a self inflicted put-down. Yet, for all the stigma a perfectionism problem may have, it truly is a difficult trait to manage. Perfectionism is linked to both depression and anxiety and can hinder people from moving forward in life.

The typical perfectionist personality is displayed by someone who likes a sense of order and control. They are driven, critical, and hold high performance standards. Most perfectionists are eager to please others and have type-A personalities which focus on organization, ambition, and management skills. Disappointment can come easily and striving is often the outcome.

Different types of perfectionism include:

Socially Prescribed Perfectionism. This occurs when the perfectionist believes that others hold them to a higher standard than what is average. They may be particularly attuned to perceived criticism. By failing to measure up to the high standards, a sense of self and self esteem are damaged.

Self-Oriented Perfectionism. By setting rigid personal standards, a person demonstrating self-oriented perfectionism may become extremely critical of themselves, leading to depression. They often compete with others, but also themselves. No matter the outcome, there is always room for improvement.

The Review of General Psychology found that perfectionists are more likely to commit suicide. While everything may look fine on the outside, the inner critic can become overwhelming. Health issues that commonly impact perfectionists include:

  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Heart disease
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic anxiety
  • Depression
  • Anorexia
  • Obsessive compulsive actions
  • Panic attacks
  • Digestive issues

A certain amount of perfectionism may be motivating and even healthy, but if you suspect it may be a problem, ask yourself:

  • Do you continue to strive for a specific success even if it hurts you?
  • Have friends or family suggested you may be too critical of others?
  • Are you overly defensive when criticized?
  • Is there a perpetual feeling that you have almost made it, but not quite?

There are ways to train the brain where perfectionism can at least slide into the background. CBT therapists can help with this type of mental health issue as well as simple steps that can be taken independently. Depending on the severity of the situation, treatment may vary. Since perfectionism is usually an ‘all or nothing’ type of thinking that propels perfectionism forward, concrete rules may help stop (or at least slow) the obsession.

Here are 3 suggestions for perfectionists who want to feel happier:

  1. The word ‘should’ is not helpful. By removing this word, the rigidity of the action becomes less powerful.
  2. Turn to mindfulness. Slowing down one’s thinking can help control the ways in which we think. Whether we choose to act upon those thoughts becomes easier and less fraught with compulsion.
  3. Stop comparing yourself to others. As was stated in the beginning, social media can be a disaster for those who are consistently striving for perfection. Even for those who aren’t perfectionists, esteem can be affected. Staying off social media can have positive results for both depression and anxiety.

Perfectionism, comparisons, and an all or nothing attitude, can lead to feelings of resentment, even with people you love. Although everyone has heard the phrase ‘no one is perfect’, it’s nice to know we’re in good company.  

How to Ditch Perfectionism

Rebecca Lee

Rebecca Lee lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. She has published with: Harvard, Adbusters, The Virginian Pilot etc. Her book, Object Relations, is due for publication in July.

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APA Reference
Lee, R. (2018). How to Ditch Perfectionism. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 2 Feb 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.