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Letting Go of Perfectionism

Written by: Maddie McGarrah, M.Ed.
Letting Go of Perfectionism

One of my favorite researchers, Dr. Brene Brown, describes perfectionism as “a way of thinking and feeling that says this: ‘If look perfect, do perfect, work perfect and live perfect, I can avoid or minimize shame, blame and judgement.’” Experiencing shame and putting blame on ourselves can be one of the most debilitating feelings and so we will do whatever we can to avoid feeling that. For people who are motivated to do well and work hard, trying to avoid shame often comes about as perfectionism where we give ourselves no room to make mistakes or fail. However, letting ourselves make a mistake or fail can be one of the most beneficial experiences for us in that it can allow us to learn and do better the next time. Perfectionism also comes about when we are so worried that if others see the not perfect part of us, they will not accept us, and we will no longer belong.

Here are some ways to help push back against perfectionism and start to challenge it. According to Dr. Brown, the first step is “accept that you, like everyone else in the world, will always be vulnerable to shame, judgment, and blame. Accepting that these emotions are universal and unavoidable takes away perfectionism’s power”. This is then when you can start building resiliency to feelings of shame and blame where you can challenge any shame you may experience rather than avoid situations to try and avoid shame (Brown). We then need to start having self-compassion and re-evaluate the expectations that we put on ourselves. For example, when we recognize we made a mistake or didn’t fully succeed how we wanted, have compassion on yourself by allowing to see how that mistake may be something to learn from to do better the next time. Or that sometimes we don’t fully succeed and that is okay. Allow yourself to have the expectation that you will try your best and that your effort is more worthy than the outcome. To learn more, Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection is a great read.