How to Let Go of Perfectionism and Find Deeper Happiness
You’re that person. The rockstar who accepts every work assignment that lands on her desk, the parent who always makes sure the kids are well-fed, well-dressed, and well-behaved, the superhuman who somehow makes it to the gym six days a week, spends time with friends each Friday, and makes it to church every Sunday.
On the outside (or at least on social media), your life looks pristine. The house is in order, your work is top quality, and you know just the right dish to bring to every party.
Maybe people have praised you on your superpowers. They shake their heads, and they ask you how you do it. They want to know your secret.
And the secret? You’re exhausted. You’re anxious. You feel like you’re running on a treadmill to nowhere, and you don’t know how to jump off the moving track. You’re guilty of perfectionism, and you don’t know your identity without it.
Understanding Perfectionism: Why Do We Do This To Ourselves?
We aren’t born as perfectionists. Just take a look at small children. They’re clumsy and awkward and don’t really care if you have an opinion about it. But something unfortunate happens in that transition between innocence and adulthood. Through a series of circumstances, we learn that mistakes are intolerable. We believe that we’re not good enough just as we are. Instead, we must strive harder to do better.
Perfectionism can breed from unhealthy family dynamics. It can stem from parents who place extraordinary pressure on their children. It can also come from competitive school environments or certain coaches, friends, or mentors.
Perfectionism may also result from a sense of failure. Many people experience feelings of shame and humiliation after failing. These uncomfortable feelings can throttle us into warrior mode- we buckle down, focus harder, and don’t let failure become an option.
Finally, our society tends to reward perfectionists. Let’s be honest. It feels good to have your friends, bosses, or family praise your efforts. You love knowing that people perceive you as being on top- even when you feel like you’re drowning.
In other words, we are perfectionists because we often feel like we don’t have another choice. To surrender this identity could mean abandoning a sense of valuable control.
Identifying How Perfectionism Harms You
To change your perfectionism, you must be willing to identify how it’s created problems in your life. Consider the following questions:
- Do you feel like it’s impossible to meet even your own standards?
- Do your standards get in the way of enjoying other areas in your life?
- Do you feel exhausted or burnt out?
- Are you resentful or bitter towards people who don’t hold themselves to such standards?
- Are you constantly feeling insecure or inadequate?
- Do you avoid trying new things because you fear failing at them?
Face and Make Friends With The Fear
What lies underneath your perfectionism? Fear of being unloved? Of rejection? Of total failure? Is it all of the above?
Take it a step further. What if these fears were to come true? What would then happen? Would your entire world fall apart? Would your reputation become downright unsalvageable?
There’s a good chance that you hold disproportionate fear about a potential worst-case scenario. Unfortunately, this fear maintains the perfectionism. If you can learn to make peace with this fear, you will be able to see how unrealistic it can be.
Note (And End) The Comparison Game
Theodore Roosevelt once said comparison is the thief of joy. And it’s a worthwhile quote to consider when trying to conquer perfectionism.
The more we focus on how everyone else is doing, the more inadequate we likely feel. As a result, we tend to be harder on ourselves to compensate.
Of course, comparison is normal. We look at our neighbors’ houses, our friend’s Instagrams, and our coworker’s job titles. In others, we often we see what we want. And because we may not have those things, we feel angry and frustrated.
Try and be mindful of this comparison game. The first step is merely being aware of how often you do it. The second step is recognizing that you never know where someone is in the journey. Each of us has our own strengths and weaknesses; thus, the process can and will look different for everyone.
Do you want to know the real secret of balance? It doesn’t lie in doing it all. It also certainly doesn’t lie in doing it all perfectly. Balanced people have a simple premise, and it’s built on acceptance.
The more you can learn to accept your reality, the easier it will be to make mistakes and do “just good enough.” This isn’t an invitation to slack off or give up altogether. Acceptance simply allows a space for you to realize that it’s going to be okay.
Practice cultivating acceptance in your daily routine by:
- Reflecting on your gratitude often
- Meditating or praying
- Using positive affirmations (i.e., everything will be okay; this is where I’m supposed to be right now)
- Practicing taking a non-judgmental stance towards your circumstances
Try Something That Terrifies You
Rock climbing. A new language. Going back to school. You know what that thing is, and your perfectionism has stopped you from pursuing it for a long time now.
Forcing yourself to try something new- something you won’t be perfect at- is one of the best ways to find comfort in just doing your best. This may feel uncomfortable at first, but aim to stick with the process. You’ll learn that life isn’t just about accomplishing- it’s about learning, experiencing, and making mistakes along the way!
Remember that you aren’t going to be ‘perfect’ in healing from your perfectionism! Be patient and kind to yourself during this journey. It may feel scary, but the work is worthwhile.
Need an extra hand along the way? Willow Counseling can help! Click to learn more about how therapy can help you break free from your perfectionism.
Willow Counseling, Nashville, TN
Willow Counseling, PLLC exists to provide quality trauma-informed mental health counseling to the Nashville community, recognizing the interconnectedness of our emotional, spiritual and physical selves. We work together to alleviate symptoms, learn better coping skills, relieve burdens, remove the pain of trauma, and so much more. However, our greatest desire is for you to know what it means to feel purpose and joy again and to recognize the strength and worth you have to offer the world.