Be honest. Do you always want to be perceived positively by others?
Or are you afraid of failure? Do you struggle with not feeling good enough, no matter what you do? Are your expectations of yourself or others unrealistically high?
If you can relate to these, you might be a perfectionist. And you’re far from alone.
Perfectionism is something I struggle with from time-to-time, so I wanted to create a list of some strategies that work for me and share it in hopes of helping others.
1. Instead of focusing on the end goal, try and enjoy the process.
I'm all too familiar with the highs I get from the sense of accomplishment for achieving something I've been focused on getting to. However, this high is often short-lived because it comes at the expense of the “low”: the pain I put myself through to getting to a goal. One of the most effective strategies I've found to allow myself to embrace and appreciate the process of getting to a goal is actually making this process something I enjoy, and the focal point of my journey to growth. I also find this takes the pressure off the result and makes the process itself feel worthwhile to go through. I believe the key to this is being curious and excited about the things you can learn about yourself in the process of moving towards something that's important to you. I find this helps remind me that things are worth doing, regardless of the result.
2. Practice self-compassion.
As a recovering perfectionist, I sometimes notice my inner critic coming out and shaming me for my perceived flaws and shortcomings. Because my inner critic expects perfection (which is unattainable), no matter what I do, it will find something to pick on, making me feel inadequate and unmotivated. What helps me when this happens is reminding myself that I am human, and as humans, we all struggle with imperfections. Being able to catch myself in a “not-good-enough” shaming moment, identifying the negative thought, and then offering the thought loving kindness through compassion can be really helpful. You can offer loving kindness by providing yourself the same compassion you would show to a loved one, through kind words and actions.
3. Re-evaluate your expectations and set more realistic ones.
Sometimes I don't even realize how unrealistic the expectations I set for myself or others are. It's no surprise then that I am bound to feel disappointed and lose motivation because the expectations I have are completely unattainable. A great strategy for this is to exchange those high expectations with more realistic ones, which are those that you and others can reasonably meet, taking into consideration what is and is not in your control. If you're noticing yourself constantly feeling upset or frustrated, it might be because you are holding onto unreasonable expectations. It might help to talk this out with a friend or family member, who can help you reassess your expectations and look at ways to make them more attainable and realistic.
4. Love yourself not in spite of, but for your imperfections.
Embrace your flaws. They make you, you. Once I was able to see that my striving to reach some unattainable standard to prove my own worth to others and myself was what was actually making me feel unworthy and unlovable, I was able to accept myself as I am and just be. This ability to be, helped lead me to a place of whole-hearted acceptance. Now, when I strive to make changes in my life, it comes from a place of wholeness vs not feeling good enough, and, regardless of the outcome, I still feel deserving, whole and complete. This also helps with enjoying the process instead of being outcome focused.
5. Set boundaries and honour your needs.
Often times what comes with being a perfectionist is wanting to people-please. There's nothing wrong with having the desire to make others happy but when it comes at the expense of your needs and your truth, you are not doing anyone any favours. I sometimes have to stop and ask myself, “Am I being true to myself right now or am I saying or doing this to gain approval from the other person?” I remember when I initially went through this process, it was challenging to know the difference because I had neglected my own needs for so long to instead prioritize the needs of others by saying or doing things so they would like me. I felt I lost myself and didn't really know who I was anymore. I wasn’t speaking or living my truth. I wasn’t being authentic.
Being able to slow down and reflect on what you are feeling in any given moment while also reflecting on what your values are or what's really important to you can be a good way to help determine what your needs are and any boundaries that need to be set. You might find that as you begin to express who you are and what your needs are, the people that stay around are really there for you as a person and not for what you can give them. You begin to learn how to tolerate the discomfort that comes from realizing that not everyone likes you. Being you and honouring your truth becomes more important than being liked or gaining someone’s approval.
Overcoming perfectionism is a process. Choosing to let go of perfectionism is choosing to love and accept yourself by choosing to let go of the need to prove your worth.
You will notice that over time, as you become more and more kinder to yourself, you will begin to really see and feel that you are good enough exactly as you are!
Melissa is a clinical therapist in our Toronto office specializing in anxiety, perfectionism, and self-image.