Today, we are talking about how to overcome perfectionism. We talk about what perfectionism is, what it looks like, why we suffer from it, and what we can do about it. I touched on the topic of perfectionism in my article on How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome and when mentioned it again when talking about the image of a perfect mom in my article on How Motherhood Empowers You. But I want to really dive into it a lot deeper today. Perfectionism has been a theme in my life lately. And it’s something that I’m really working on. So, I figured what better time to talk about it?
My Struggle Overcoming Perfectionism
After taking a break from my podcast and blog during my maternity leave, it was really challenging for me to step back into recording podcasts. I began picking apart my writing and recording. It became an endless cycle of edit, delete, re-record, and repeat. There was just no way for me to just be satisfied with my work. I constantly felt like there was always more I could do, more I could fix.
lIt didn’t help that when I started recording again, my audio settings had been reset somewhere along the way which made my audio unbearable for me to listen to. And the worst part is that I had batch recorded one day, so I now had hours’ worth of audio with these messed-up settings.
Perfectionism Almost Won
All of this kept me from releasing my Becoming a Mother series for months. Days before publishing the opening episode, The Birth of a Mother, I had a full-blown breakdown and told my husband that I wanted to quit. Perfectionism almost caused me to throw this dream away. It almost caused me to step away from this passion project that I’ve been called to pursue.
Thankfully, he stepped in to help me improve my audio issues to the best of our abilities and convinced me to reconsider quitting. He reminded me why I was doing this. It wasn’t for perfection, in fact – it was to show the world something other than perfection. Something real, something raw and vulnerable. To be human is to be flawed. Who was I to sit here striving for perfection when all I do is preach acceptance of your own beautiful selves. Seemed like I needed to turn inwards and take a good, hard look at accepting my own self!
But enough about me. Let’s get into this topic and how to help you. We are going to talk about what perfectionism is, what it looks like, why we suffer from it, and what we can do about it!
What Is Perfectionism?
Most of you are probably familiar with the term perfectionism. You may or may not suffer from it. But my guess is you might, even just a little, based on the fact that you are reading this article. Perfectionism, by definition, means a personal standard, attitude, or philosophy that demands perfection and rejects anything less. Sounds really fun, right?
Well, I want to start off by giving you the cold, hard truth. Perfection is an illusion. No one is perfect. And I’m sorry to break it to you but you are not perfect and you never will be. Sounds harsh, but I am also here to openly admit that I’m most certainly not perfect either, no matter how hard I try some days. Yes, even your idol, role model, or #goals person is not perfect. That is because perfection is nothing but an illusion.
Being human means being flawed. By nature, we are all flawed. How boring would this world be if people could actually achieve perfection? What else would we have to strive for? And what would we have to relate to one another with? Our flaws bring us together, they give us a connection point. And they also make us unique in our own ways. Maybe if we start looking at our flaws in a more positive light, they might have less control over us and allow us to have more authentic connections with one another.
What Does Perfectionism Look Like?
Now that we know what perfectionism is, let’s talk more about what it looks like. Perfectionism can be really sneaky. Some of the ways it can show up in your life are ways that are celebrated and reinforced by society – like being selfless or the grind of hustle culture.
This may show up in your life much differently than mine. It’s also possible that perfectionism can show up differently in separate areas of your own life. You may find that you experience some of these perfectionist tendencies only in areas like work, relationships, or your body image. But you might see them differently (or not at all) in other areas like your home, event planning, or parenting.
So, with that in mind, here are some of the ways that perfectionism might show up in your life:
The first way is by being too self-critical. You might be like me and tear yourself apart after social encounters or when you look in the mirror. At any given point, you can find ways that you have failed or made mistakes. And it feels pretty much impossible to look beyond that. This is a truly awful and incredibly mean side of perfectionism. If we wouldn’t talk to our friends or loved ones like that, why are we talking to ourselves that way?
Having Unrealistic Standards
The second way that perfectionism can show up in your life, is in all of those unrealistic standards. We’ve discussed that perfectionism itself is not a realistic expectation. Yet, you might still set that as your standard – not accepting anything less than perfect from yourself or others. As you can imagine, having these unrealistic standards can make your relationships very challenging. If you find a good partner or friend, you may end up obsessing over their flaws and missing out on a good thing. Those unrealistic standards of yourself usually go hand in hand with my next point, which is…
Striving For Too Much
Having personal or professional goals is great, don’t get me wrong. And having big, long-term goals is even better. What’s not ok is having goals that are as unrealistic as your standards. This could be the timeframe in which you are expecting to reach your goal. Maybe you are not allowing any space for potential setbacks or delays. Or it might be the fact that you did not break your big goal down into actionable steps or smaller goals like I talked about in my episode on Following your Dreams.
And when you pair unrealistic standards with striving for too much, you get burned out. Burnout is another way that perfectionism can show up in your life. You are doing too much, friend. You are burning the candle at both ends, exhausting all of your energy and resources. This slides perfectly into my next point, which is…
Inability to Move Forward
As I mentioned before in my recent battle with perfectionism and jumping back into podcasting, perfectionism holds you back. It keeps you from starting. And it can definitely keep you from finishing. This is because it will never be perfect. If you keep waiting for things to be perfect, nothing will ever get accomplished. What do we gain from never moving forward? We deserve to always keep moving and not stay stuck in this same spot.
And over on the mental health side of perfectionism, it can show up as depression. Since you will not accept anything less than perfect and there is no way that you could ever actually meet your unrealistic idea of being perfect, you begin to feel like a failure. It chips away at your self-worth and can send you into a deep, dark hole of depression.
Or maybe perfectionism shows up in your life as anxiety. You might be obsessing over every little detail to ensure it is all perfect, every step of the way. When really, those details might not deserve the amount of brainpower you are giving them. It may not matter what font you use or what color you wear when the focus at hand is so much bigger than those small pieces. Trying to make every little detail perfect is really just a way to feel in control of whatever fear you are hiding for a moment.
A very sneaky way that perfectionism might show up is in you wearing an emotional mask. We’ve all been wearing masks because of the pandemic. And we all know it’s easy to hide your facial expressions. Wearing an emotional mask makes it even easier. You are putting up this front to hide all of your insecurities, fears, and struggles. Because those are all perceived flaws in your eyes. It feels easier and safer to put a smile on, pose for the camera, or project to the world that “It’s all good”.
You may be convincing everyone else that you are “all good” and life is “all good” but you are really just lying to them. Sure, not everyone deserves your deepest and most vulnerable thoughts or feelings. But allowing people in just a little bit allows for support and connection. This also creates more space for others to feel comfortable doing the same.
Putting on an Act
Along the same lines, perfectionism can show up in putting on an act. In trying to be the perfect mom, wife, friend, daughter, employee, or whatever role it is you want to be perfect in. I spoke about this heavily in my episode on How Motherhood Empowers You. Again, this does not allow for any connection points with others and it further perpetuates this false idea that perfectionism actually exists.
The last way that perfectionism can show up in your life is through people-pleasing. This looks like having difficulty saying no, putting others’ needs before your own, apologizing – don’t even get me started on apologizing. I have a bad habit of apologizing way too much, I think all women do.
Once you start catching yourself doing it and you stop to ask yourself if you really need to apologize in those situations, you might quickly realize how often you are taking on blame for situations that are completely outside of your control. Or just apologizing for being your amazing self, which is completely unnecessary. See? I could go on for days about it. Maybe that will be another article, but it’s not our topic for today so let’s get back to my point on people-pleasing.
People-pleasing also looks like taking on other people’s emotions, taking ownership of their personal dramas. It can show up as you acting like a chameleon with someone, mimicking their behaviors and language to please them. Being afraid to be yourself or speak your needs. You are sacrificing yourself for others. Unfortunately, this keeps you from knowing who you are and what you want. You are no longer a priority in your own life.
Why Do We Suffer From Perfectionism?
Perfectionism has many different faces. In my article on Overcoming Imposter Syndrome, I talked about how the Perfectionist is one of the coping identities that people take on when struggling with Imposter syndrome – or feeling like an Imposter in their own lives. That is because the root of perfectionism usually comes from a deep fear. It comes from a place of not feeling like enough.
Perfectionism masks feelings of unworthiness, of not being good enough, smart enough, beautiful enough, of not being enough. Think of where it comes from for you. At some point in its existence, your imposter syndrome was a survival tactic. It served a purpose, but it’s no longer serving you.
For me, my deep fear of unworthiness comes from two places. It comes from having a neglectful mother. Of always feeling like I wasn’t enough to get her attention – to get her love. And it comes from having been in an abusive relationship. Being mocked, picked apart, and told I was worthless, I battle those messages that have been planted in my brain. I was told that I was worthless, in many different ways. And I believed it for many years.
Perfectionism feeds off of your deepest fears. And yet still manages to bring those fears to life. Because the longer you strive for this unrealistic goal, the longer you will continue to live in that fear. You will continue to feel unworthy. If it’s rejection you fear, you are rejecting yourself through this process.
You are rejecting yourself – your beautifully flawed and very human self. You are projecting that fear onto the world and not even allowing space to be accepted as your full self. And not only that, but you are continuing to set an unrealistic example for those around you. One of the ways this can be seen is in social media.
Social Media and Overcoming Perfectionism
I’ve touched on this topic so many times because it’s something that I am incredibly passionate about. Friends, social media is not real. At least not most of what you see. Yes, there are some truly amazing, vulnerable, and transparent people on social media, but that unfortunately only makes up a small portion of those platforms.
This is not to say that it will always be that way, I truly hope that we can continue to become more honest people on social media and start to inspire that in others. To set a new standard.
Think about how other people’s perceived perfection impacts you and your actions. It can make you start to be more aware of how you look, what you say, and how others view you. Your perfectionism does that to those around you as well. By not being your true, amazing, and flawed self, you are not allowing space for others to do the same. You are setting the stage for the interaction to be less real and more filtered.
So, What Can We Do About It?
Focus On Your Mentality
Your mentality is going to be huge for overcoming perfectionism. Know that perfection is not objective. It is entirely subjective. This means that what you deem as perfect will not be what someone else sees as perfect. You are chasing an invisible carrot on a stick. Perfect doesn’t exist. What does exist is being “good enough”. We all deserve to adjust our thinking to be proud of doing our best – not being proud of being the best. There is real power in accepting that good enough really is enough.
Take a step back because you are probably too close to the situation to see the truth. There will always be someone out there doing something faster, more successful, or further along than you are. Things can always be better, faster, stronger, or whatever it is you are striving for. There is always room for improvement.
So, don’t beat yourself up for being human. Try to view it as an opportunity for growth. Personally, I believe that if you are ever in a position where there is no room for growth, where you aren’t pushing yourself for more, it’s time to pivot. Comfort zones are called comfort zones because they are comfortable. They might feel safe but they can be very dangerous for your personal growth.
Accept the Messy Middle
We can also learn to be ok with the messy middle. That place where you have left the starting line but are nowhere near your finish line. You haven’t figured it all out, you haven’t reached your goal, you are somewhere along the way just trying to make sense of it all. We all have to go through the middle to reach the end. This is the space where you are learning, getting your footing, and forging your own path.
Setting Boundaries to Overcome Perfectionism
Another way we can overcome perfectionism is by setting boundaries – both with ourselves and with others.
Setting Boundaries with Others
Saying no to others means saying yes to yourself. And “no” is a full sentence. You don’t need to explain, justify, or apologize. Honor your feelings and your limits. Make them a priority and set that boundary. We can beat people-pleasing by simply respecting ourselves and our own needs.
This is also an act of giving other people space to be themselves. This happens in two ways. By not swooping in to meet all of their needs, they learn to be more self-reliant. They learn to meet their own needs. You are also giving them space to be themselves by demonstrating it. In my article on The Challenges and Struggles of Motherhood, I talked about how this impacts our children. Showing them that you have needs and letting them see you take care of those needs displays a healthy relationship with the self. It models self-care and self-respect.
Setting Boundaries with Ourselves
We also need to have boundaries with ourselves. Boundaries around self-judgment are healthy. Quit judging yourself. Don’t look at numbers or metrics. They are just that – numbers. They do not show your value, your worth, or your importance. Instead, towards your intentions, your message, your efforts. That is so much more meaningful than numbers could ever be.
Ditch the Timeframes
Another healthy way to have boundaries with ourselves is by no longer putting timeframes on ourselves. Apart from real deadlines at work or in our personal lives, such as project due dates or move-out dates. I’m talking about the timelines we set for ourselves. They tend to be unrealistic, as I mentioned earlier. Those timelines can be too big and overwhelming. Or it’s just not the right time and you are trying to force something that doesn’t have the proper environment to grow in.
When I was creating my Becoming a Mother series, it was honestly too soon for me to be working on that topic. Yes, it was heavy on my mind. I was deep in my postpartum experience and wading my way through motherhood. Because I was forcing myself to write about a topic I was still emerged in, it took me months to get to a point where I felt satisfied. If I had spent that time and energy on another topic that I wasn’t so overwhelmed with personally, I could have made a lot more progress. But, this is how we learn these lessons, right? I’m just here to share them with you.
Just Do It
The next thing we can do about perfectionism is to take action. Just do it. There is a reason that Nike chose that as their slogan. I talked about how important it is to take action in my article on Overcoming Imposter Syndrome. If we wait until we feel 100% ready to start whatever it is we want to start, it’s not going to happen. Focus on progress over perfection. Take that first step. Make it 1% further towards your goal. If you made 1% progress each day, or even 1% progress each week, imagine how much further you will be in a year.
Knowledge is Power
One way of taking action is by expanding your knowledge. We, as humans, should always be learning. I keep saying it, but we should always be striving to grow and improve. Even when we fail in life. Anytime something goes wrong, I challenge my perspective by asking myself “but did you learn something?” Because if you did, you did not fail. You gained from that experience. You’ve expanded, you’ve grown.
Keep Moving Forward
Find actionable steps to move forward. It can help to work backward towards your goal to see what steps are necessary to get to where you want to go. I dove deep into this subject in my article on Personal Growth in New Year’s Resolutions. Even if it’s not near New Year’s, go check it out. My message is that personal growth should be year-round and not just once a year. We go into how to find and take actionable steps towards your goal so you are continually moving forward.
So start providing quality, wholehearted, and intentional work. Pour yourself into every step of the way, no matter how small. That makes every single action you make, every single step you take, meaningful and worthwhile. They are valuable. So start taking action! I’m going to challenge you right now. Give you a little homework, if you will. What can you do today to take one small step towards your goal? Think about it. And just do it.
Be Gentle with Yourself
The last thing we can do to overcome perfectionism is to be gentle with ourselves. Every time I left the house when I was young, my dad told me to be gentle with myself. It took me years to fully understand what he meant by it. I’d just kind of be like “yeah, whatever, why wouldn’t I be gentle with myself?” without actually realizing all of the ways that I wasn’t being gentle with myself. These damaging thought patterns and behaviors that I had created were second nature. I couldn’t even see them.
The Cold, Hard Truth about Overcoming Perfectionism
And not trying to sound harsh or anything, but no one thinks about you that much. No one watches you that closely. Think about when you’re out in public or out with your friends. Are you analyzing every single thing that they say or do? Do you critique what they are wearing, how they are moving, or what they are saying?
Unless they are wildly in love with you – like your partner or children, I guarantee no one is paying that close of attention to you. And if it is your partner or your child, they probably find those flaws endearing or cute. Just like you do with them. They accept you as you are.
And if you happen to find someone who doesn’t accept you for your beautifully flawed self, they are not your people. You can be the ripest peach in all the land, but there will always be someone who doesn’t like peaches. But that doesn’t make you any less juicy or sweet.
We are so self-critical with ourselves. Really, we are our own worst enemies. And yet, we are so generous and forgiving of others. I mean, come on, think about your spouse, your family, or your children and how you forgive them for their mistakes. You don’t think of them and view them as their mistakes, you look at them and think of them as the wonderfully flawed human beings that they are. Well, you deserve that same respect.
You are worthy of love and acceptance. Even on your worst days. Especially on your worst days. You are already enough. With all of those perceived flaws and mistakes. You are whole. And you are exactly as you need to be right now.
Need more love?
Check out these articles:
- Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
- Ending Intergenerational Trauma
- Mindfulness in Everyday Life
- Friendship Breakups – When Friendships End