The Pain of Perfectionism

The drive and need to be perfect is an obsession, particularly in society where looks are everything, mistakes can’t be tolerated and the impulse to blame is paramount. This is highly stressful and takes enormous energy to maintain. No wonder exhaustion and burnout are on the rise.

 Perfectionism and accomplishments go hand in hand and life becomes an endless report card. Two worthwhile questions to consider are: who are you reporting to and what do you want from the report?

 When the primary focus is on accomplishments, the continual striving  leaves little room for joy, wonder, or connection. When what is valued is accomplishing things, striving for more takes on added significance, leading to pushing yourself beyond what is truly necessary. You have completely forgotten you are a human being not a human doing. It is draining to feel under the gun in this way, and yet the escape route remains elusive. There is disconnection from what is truly meaningful.

 Perfectionism and anxiety go hand in hand. When things don’t measure up to self-imposed standards, berating of self and others becomes the outlet. When the voice you hear inside your head is tackling you over and over self-confidence diminishes. That sense of lack leads to more striving and the cycle continues.

 Another course that perfectionism takes is bravado or pride. The negative self-talk is pushed down, but heard, and the try harder, do more, don’t stop syndrome unleashes a diminishment of others. Both strategies keep you separate, fueling more anxiety and discontent. It’s a viscous cycle and many suffer in isolation, leading to depression, relational difficulties, substance abuse, and more.

 Perfectionism is bad for your health and wellbeing. Use this mindful checklist to see if you might be suffering from the energy zapping trait of perfectionism. This will take honest self-reflection, a willingness to look at habits and a desire to release the grip this has on you. This will take patience to unravel, and may require assistance from a health and wellness coach or mental health provider.

  •  Stop, take several slow deep breaths. Take your time, this is an important step.

  • Notice if there is tension in the body and where it is located. Be curious.

  • Be tender and gentle as you contact the tension, it has been a part of your life for a long time. It might not release easily.

 Reflect on these questions to investigate this pattern; be honest as you self-reflect.

  • Ask are there parts of your life where you work hard to be perfect? Does this create pressure you can feel? Where do you feel the tension in your body?

  •  Recognize your courage for even asking the questions and trying to see what is here now. This is a big step for any habit pattern, especially with perfectionism.

  •  Do you compare yourself to others fairly regularly? In your mind, do you come up short?

  • Notice if striving narrows the focus to what you think needs to be perfect, and you lose touch with other day to day interests.

  • Are you measuring yourself in some way? We all are, but this measuring feels necessary not only for motivation, but self-worth.

  • Are you:

    Self-critical? Protective of your image? Easily frustrated? Easily reactive?

    Averse to delegating, preferring to do everything yourself to control the outcome?

  •  After asking, answer. It’s okay, you can look, many people feel the tightness of this pattern, you are not alone in this gripping trait.

  • Take inventory with genuine honesty, and be curious about the way the perfectionist pattern asserts itself. With seeing you create a gap; this allows you to check in and really see for yourself what is happening.

  • Offer self-compassion, a balanced acknowledgment of the grasp the pattern has on you.

  • Challenge yourself to let one thing go each day. Example, feel the  striving, yet don’t give in to it.

  • Take one thing off your to-do list, try not to think about it, and do something completely different like connect with a partner, child, or friend or go for a walk. Trust that your world isn’t going to fall apart by setting one thing down.

  • Breathe, you’re  trying a new way of relating to striving pressure that you are unfamiliar with.

  • Reflect on the many ways you did enough. Spend time here, this is an important step. Let it be enough.

  • Breathe and offer yourself compassion.

 “Perfectionism is a self destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”

Brene Brown





 Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash