How to Overcome Perfectionism

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 24, 2021
3 min read

Perfectionism is the belief that whatever you do must have no error or mistake. You might even feel unworthy, less likable, or like a failure when you make a mistake. A perfectionist is constantly striving toward perfection with the belief that imperfection is unacceptable. This way of thinking can be detrimental to your health.

A lot of people are perfectionists in specific areas of their lives. If you find yourself wanting to achieve perfection in most things you do, you might be a full-time perfectionist. Some clear signs that you might be a perfectionist include:

  • You cannot start a task until you are sure you can execute it flawlessly (procrastination).
  • You take much longer than others to complete the same task.
  • You see the end product as the most crucial part of a task.
  • You think a task is not done unless you think it is perfect.

There are three types of perfectionism. While the types have similarities, there are some key differences. The three types are:

  1. Personal standards perfectionism. This type of perfectionism is primarily healthy because you are motivated to achieve your high personal goals. Thus, you have lower chances of burnout or stress. You are less likely to inflict self-harm due to stress from attempts at perfection. Other people might think your standards are too high, but that only gives you motivation.
  2. Self-critical perfectionism. This type of perfectionism might cause you to feel intimidated or like you will never achieve your goals. The hopelessness this causes may lead to issues like anxiety disorders, stress, self-condemnation, and avoidance.
  3. Socially prescribed perfectionism. Here, perfection is demanded by an outside source. This can come from a job or career that requires maximum precision, like a doctor or a lawyer. People in these professions are more likely to have thoughts of hopelessness, stress, self-harm, or even suicide. Individuals with high social or cultural expectations placed on them may also be subject to socially prescribed perfectionism.

Research has found perfectionism to be linked to some mental health issues. Some of these mental conditions include:

Other lifestyle issues that may arise include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Frustration
  • Procrastination
  • Relationship issues

Some factors known to cause perfectionism include:

  • Fear of failure
  • Feeling the need to please parents
  • Wanting to be admired or loved by others
  • Mental health problems like anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Feeling insecure or inadequate
  • Attachment problems with parents during early childhood
  • Being a previous high achiever

Perfectionism can be difficult to deal with, but it is treatable. Therapy can be used to overcome perfectionism by managing the root cause of perfectionist behavior. A mental health professional will use the multidimensional perfectionism scale to find out what is causing your perfectionism before going into therapy.‌

The types of therapy employed to overcome perfectionism include:

  1. Cognitive-behavioral therapy. This type of therapy shows the perfectionist that perfection is not necessary in everything they do. It teaches them that errors are acceptable and should not stop them from pursuing what they want.
  2. Hypnotherapy. Hypnotherapy helps manage the “all or nothing” mentality found in most perfectionists.
  3. Family systems therapy. Here, therapy is used to find out how perfectionism came up in the family unit and how it affected the subject as an individual.

You can try to overcome perfectionism without relying on therapy. Some things you can do on your own to help manage your perfectionism include:

  • Note down the advantages and disadvantages of being a perfectionist. Whenever you find yourself falling back into perfectionism, take another look at the disadvantages and move on.
  • Set achievable goals for yourself. Setting attainable goals will keep you from pursuing unattainable perfection. This way, you can achieve your goals with the resources you have.
  • Set time limits for tasks and make sure to follow them. To avoid spending excess time trying to perform a task perfectly, create a realistic time limit and stick to it.
  • Avoid procrastination. Concentrate on the task instead of the end product. If you can break down your job into smaller, manageable bits to complete one step at a time, you may avoid overworking.
  • Remember that mistakes are not bad. Celebrate them.
  • Pursue different things that matter to you and make you happy. Avoid focusing on perfecting only one thing.