Overcoming Perfectionism: Lessons from a Recovering Perfectionist. Part I.

Are you constantly striving for perfection in every aspect of your life? Do you criticize yourself when you fall short of your own expectations? Do you find yourself feeling anxious and stressed when things don’t go exactly as planned? If so, you may be struggling with overcoming perfectionism. As a recovering perfectionist myself, I understand the challenges that come with this mindset. In this blog post, I will share my top 10 tips for overcoming perfectionism and finding peace and fulfillment in your life


Recognize the Signs of Perfectionism

Understanding the signs of perfectionism is the first step toward addressing and ultimately overcoming it. Perfectionism manifests in various behaviors and thought patterns that can be detrimental to our mental health and overall well-being. Some common signs include setting excessively high and unrealistic standards for yourself and others, an all-or-nothing approach to tasks and goals, procrastination due to fear of failure, and an overwhelming fear of making mistakes. Additionally, perfectionists often struggle with chronic dissatisfaction, constantly feeling like nothing is ever good enough.

Perfectionists also tend to fixate on their flaws and mistakes, rather than acknowledging and celebrating their successes and progress. This focus on negative outcomes can lead to significant stress, anxiety, and depression, as the relentless pursuit of perfection becomes an unattainable goal. Another indicator is difficulty in accepting and responding to constructive criticism. Instead of viewing feedback as an opportunity for growth, a perfectionist might interpret it as a personal attack or a confirmation of their inadequacies.

Moreover, perfectionism can strain relationships, as the expectation for perfection is projected onto others, causing friction and unrealistic demands on friends, family, and colleagues. Understanding that these signs are more than just high standards or a strong work ethic is crucial—they are markers of a mindset that can hinder personal and professional growth.

Recognizing these signs in yourself or others is a critical step in the journey toward healthier, more balanced, and self-compassionate ways of living and working. Identifying the telltale signs of perfectionism is a critical step on your journey to overcoming it. You may find yourself trapped in a cycle of setting unattainable goals, or perhaps you’re overly critical of your work, believing it’s never good enough. Another common sign is procrastination due to a fear of failure, or conversely, you might be overworking yourself to meet excessively high standards.

Perfectionists often struggle with black-and-white thinking, viewing results as either perfect or a complete failure, with no middle ground. Additionally, an overreliance on the approval and validation of others for your self-esteem might indicate a perfectionist mindset. Perfectionism shows up in thoughts of always needing to be productive or busy and an inability to fully relax. Acknowledging these behaviors is essential, as it lays the foundation for moving towards a more balanced and forgiving approach to your achievements and self-expectations.

Perfectionism is not simply holding yourself to a high standard. Perfectionism is holding yourself to an unattainable standard then criticizing yourself for not reaching the standard. Perfectionism contributes to ill mental health, often in the form of high anxiety. But most of all, perfectionism blocks us of from living our most fulfilling lives robbing us of the ability to receive joy in the present moment.

mindfulness to overcome perfectionism

Learn mindfulness: Recognize How you Speak to yourself to Overcome Perfectionism

Overcoming perfectionism is not easy but it is possible with the proper methods. Mindfulness is a powerful tool in the journey to overcome perfectionism, particularly when it comes to the way we speak to ourselves. The internal dialogue we maintain plays a crucial role in shaping our perceptions, actions, and reactions to the world around us. By becoming more mindful of this internal conversation, we can start to recognize patterns of negative self-talk that fuel our perfectionist tendencies.

Consider the moments when you’ve faced a setback or didn’t meet your own expectations. What kind of language did you use with yourself? Was it harsh, unforgiving, or even demeaning? Negative self-talk reinforces perfectionism by embedding a fear of failure and a belief that we are not enough unless we meet these often unrealistic standards. This kind of internal dialogue not only undermines our self-esteem but also hampers our motivation to tackle challenging tasks, for fear of the internal criticism that may follow if we fall short.

To cultivate mindfulness in how you speak to yourself, start by observing your thoughts without judgment. Notice when critical thoughts arise and gently guide your focus towards more constructive and compassionate language. Instead of telling yourself, “I can’t do anything right,” reframe your thoughts to reflect growth and potential, such as, “I am learning and growing from my experiences.” This shift doesn’t happen overnight but practicing mindfulness in your self-dialogue can gradually transform the way you relate to yourself and your imperfections.

Incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine can also aid in this transition. Whether it’s through meditation, journaling, or simply taking a few moments to breathe and check in with your thoughts throughout the day, creating space to observe and adjust your internal dialogue can lead to profound shifts in overcoming perfectionism.

 This mindful approach to self-talk encourages a nurturing and forgiving relationship with yourself, paving the way for greater resilience, self-acceptance, and ultimately, a more fulfilling life.

Mindfulness is a powerful tool in recognizing and transforming the way we speak to ourselves. It begins with observing our internal dialogue, especially in moments of stress or failure. Are your words harsh and critical, or gentle and encouraging? The narrative you craft within your mind significantly influences your resilience, motivation, and overall well-being. By adopting a mindful approach, you learn to catch negative self-talk in action, pausing to assess its accuracy and helpfulness. Instead of being swept away by self-critical thoughts, challenge them with evidence of your past successes and strengths.

Shift your inner voice towards one of encouragement and support, as if you were your own best friend. This practice not only changes your relationship with yourself but also enhances your capacity to face challenges with confidence and grace. Mindfulness allows you to create a space between thoughts and reactions, giving you the power to choose responses that uplift and advance your journey, rather than those that hinder it.

treating oneself with the same compassion one uses to treat freinds

Replace Self-Criticism with Self-Compassion

Shifting the internal dialogue from self-criticism to self-compassion is a transformative journey to overcome perfectionism that begins with the conscious choice to treat yourself with the same kindness and empathy you would offer a friend. In moments of perceived failure or when you notice the critic inside you gaining volume, pause to reflect on what you would say to someone you care about in a similar situation. Would you berate them, or would you offer words of encouragement and understanding? This pivot in perspective can illuminate the harshness of our self-directed narratives and inspire a more gentle approach.

Practicing self-compassion involves acknowledging your feelings without judgment and accepting that experiencing setbacks is a universal aspect of being human. It means allowing yourself to be flawed and recognizing that mistakes do not define your worth or capabilities. When you encounter a setback, instead of spiraling into self-criticism, try speaking to yourself with compassion: “I’m doing my best, and that’s okay. Everyone struggles sometimes, and this doesn’t make me any less capable or deserving of happiness.”

Engaging in self-compassion also entails taking care of your well-being, rather than pushing yourself relentlessly towards unattainable ideals. This can look like setting realistic goals, granting yourself permission to rest, and engaging in activities that nourish your spirit and body. It’s about shifting the focus from achieving perfection to embracing and celebrating your humanity.

By cultivating self-compassion, you create a nurturing inner environment that fosters growth, resilience, and a deeper sense of contentment. This doesn’t imply abandoning the pursuit of personal or professional goals but rather approaching them with a mindset that values progress over perfection, and well-being over relentless achievement.When we receive positive reinforcement for what we do or say, we are more likely to repeat that behavior. When we received negative reinforcement for what we do or say, we are less likely to engage in that behavior again.

Self-criticism is negative reinforcement. When we constantly criticize ourselves, we make it difficult for ourselves to attempt hard things….because we know what’s coming if we do not succeed. What comes next is mean words and uncomfortable emotions. So of course perfectionism breads procrastination.

If we replace self-criticism with self compassion, we begin to use positive reinforcement rather than negative. If you attempt something difficult and scary and fall a little short of complete success, if you are cheering yourself on with kind words, you will try hard things again. It is only by attempting difficult tasks and goals that we become confident in our abilities and achieve high self-esteem.

using values to overcome perfectionism/counseling for perfectionism/ Empower Counseling/ 35223

Find Clarity Around What you Value to Overcome Perfectionism

Identifying and understanding your core values is a fundamental aspect of overcoming perfectionism.

This process requires introspection and a willingness to question what truly matters to you. Begin by reflecting on moments when you felt most fulfilled or at peace. What were you doing? Who were you with? These reflections can offer insights into the values that drive your deepest satisfaction. Perhaps it’s creativity, connection with others, or personal growth that lights up your life. Once you have a clearer picture of your values, use them as a compass for your decisions and actions.

Instead of striving for perfection in areas that society deems important, focus your energy on pursuits that align with your personal values. This alignment not only brings a greater sense of purpose and joy into your life but also shifts the focus away from the unattainable standards of perfection.

By centering your goals and daily activities around your values, you cultivate a life that feels meaningful and fulfilling on your terms. Engaging in activities that reflect your values reinforces a sense of self-worth that is not dependent on external achievements or recognition, but rather on living in harmony with what truly matters to you.

This approach fosters a resilient mindset, where the pursuit of personal values becomes more rewarding than the pursuit of perfection. Perfectionists tend to get upset about every little detail. That is because we allow every detail to become too important, often overshadowing the big picture or the main goal. Being very clear on what is really truly important to you and what is not will help you move away from being so easily upset. If focused on more big picture you may begin to relax more even if every detail does not go as planned.

a woman experiencing joy by overcoming perfectionism/ counseling for perfectionism/ 35223

Recognize Your Value Outside of Your Results to Overcome Perfectionism

Perfectionism often shackles us to the belief that our worth is solely tied to our achievements and productivity. This mindset traps us in a relentless cycle of doing, pushing us toward burnout and robbing us of the joy and richness of life. It’s essential to break free from this cycle by understanding that our value extends far beyond the outcomes we produce.

Each person possesses inherent qualities that contribute to their worth—compassion, resilience, creativity, and the ability to connect with others on a deep level. These traits and the impact we have on the lives of those around us are not quantifiable by any metric of productivity or success.

Overcoming perfectionism begins when you stop equating your self-worth with your results, start by reflecting on the roles you play in the lives of your loved ones and your community.

Think about moments when you offered support, shared a laugh, or lent an ear—none of which require achievement to be valuable. Engaging in activities that nourish your soul and connect you to your passions can also remind you that your worth is not dependent on being perpetually productive. Whether it’s a hobby that brings you joy, volunteering for a cause close to your heart, or simply spending time in nature, these experiences are a testament to the richness of your character and the true essence of your value.

By embracing the multifaceted dimensions of your worth, you can cultivate a life that balances achievement with contentment, recognizing that you are enough, just as you are. Perfectionism often conflates self-worth with productivity and accomplishments, creating a relentless cycle of needing to achieve to feel valuable. This mindset traps individuals in a state of constant doing, overshadowing the essence of simply being. To break free from this cycle, it’s crucial to cultivate an appreciation for yourself beyond what you produce.

Start by engaging in activities that bring you joy without a productive outcome, like reading for pleasure, walking in nature, or spending time with loved ones. These moments are vital for understanding that your worth is not tied to your achievements. Reflect on qualities you possess that contribute to your character—compassion, empathy, creativity—recognizing these as intrinsic values independent of external success. By shifting focus from doing to being, you begin to dismantle the perfectionist belief that only results define worth, paving the way for a more balanced and fulfilling approach to life.

Let Empower Counseling Help You Overcome Perfectionism and Find More Joy

a woman who has overcome perfectionism through therapy for perfectionism/ Empower Counseling/ 35223

Our compassionate, understanding therapists at Empower Counseling, Kathryn, Marti, Savannah, and Lucia, specialize in counseling for overcoming perfectionism. Perfectionism robs you of daily joy, keeping you from enjoying your life in the present moment. Through Acceptance Commitment Therapy, we can help you move away from stress, overwhelm, procrastination and always feeling like you are not enough. Instead we will show you the path toward a more satisfying, fulfilling, content life.

Perfectionism counseling is not the only service we offer at our Mountain Brook Offices and through online counseling throughout the state of Alabama. We offer anxiety counseling, counseling for depression, counseling for difficult life transitions, trauma counseling, counseling for PTSD. Lucia offers therapy for eating disorders, woman’s issues, bipolar disorder, and generational trauma. Savannah and Marti offer EMDR for trauma and PTSD. Kathryn offers executive coaching and life coaching as well. We provide our services to teens, college students (Auburn, Alabama, Samford, etc), young adults, adults, and more specifically, professionals.

Reach out to day and you will see how easy it is to get started toward a better life.

  1. Click here
  2. Request a free consultation with one of our therapists.
  3. Get started down your path to lasting change.

Kathryn Ely, is an LPC, attorney, and recovering perfectionist seeing clients in Mountain Brook Alabama and throughout the state of Alabama via telehealth. Kathryn is a mother of three, who discovered not only how perfectionism was robbing her of her individual job but how it was affecting her in her relationships. Kathryn has made it her mission to develop an intricate understanding of how the perfectionist’s brain works and how to overcome perfectionism and move toward psychological flexibility.

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