Confessions of a recovering perfectionist: The Consequences Of Perfection and how to overcome it

Have you ever felt like you’re just not good enough?

In a healthy aspect, this is a feeling that happens occasionally when you hit a low point or your confidence is lacking. It’s something that everyone goes through at one time or another and without it, you wouldn’t be human. This feeling becomes an issue when it takes over every single moment of every single day. It turns into a thought process that is difficult to shift. This is known as self-perfectionism.

To be clear, there are three different forms of perfectionism: Self-Orientated, Other-Orientated and Socially Prescribed. Self-perfectionism is the thought process of setting very high standards for ones self and adhering to strict standards in an avoidance of failure. They constantly self-evaluate themselves.

I confess that this is something I have suffered with for most of my life and admittedly even at this present moment. Although I know i can never become close to achieving perfection- a myth- I have an internal program that tells me I should be.  

Through the various people I encountered during my time at university, I came to a quick realisation that I’m not alone in this. Perfectionism is  rampant in our image-obsessed, achievement-driven culture. We are all guilty of posting the best parts of our lives on social media and to others this can seem like our lives are perfect. There is this notion that we should all be continuously achieving more and when we aren’t, it’s like we’ve failed big time! Self-improvement should always be encouraged but it can become very unhealthy when self-perfectionism takes over. Unfortunately, it’s a self-destructive thought process; perfect is not only impossible, it’s un-human and it can ruin relationships, your career, confidence and self-esteem.

Despite knowing that I am still walking through the battlefield of self-perfectionism, I have certainly came a long way in the past few years. Whilst I still have reoccurring thoughts that the work I am producing isn’t ‘perfect’ or my goals haven’t been reached because I’m just not good enough, they have decreased considerably. In fact, most of the time I do feel good enough. Therefore, I felt it was necessary to share my advice on overcoming self-perfection.

Recognise Perfectionism

Many aren’t even aware they are suffering from perfectionism. It can actually be quite difficult to see the fine line between striving for excellence and obsessing over perfectionism. Excellence means striving for success but having realistic expectations and standards. To chase excellence is understanding your own limits and capabilities, it is focusing on what’s right instead of what’s not working. Perfectionism is very different; if you have trouble meeting your standards, have an intensive fear of failure and think of mistakes as land mines instead of stepping stones, then you may be a victim of self-perfectionism. Like any unhealthy mental problem, addressing that you have an issue is the first step to recovery.

Practice self-awareness

You are not an image in your mind- you create them.

This has been the biggest factor for my self-perfection. I had managed to create an image in my head of who I should be instead of who I actually am. I had a warped sense of awareness that gravely mislead me. My confidence had been tied to this notion of becoming my own image of perfection. Ironically, I could take criticism from anyone- it was the voices in my head that became detrimental.

Becoming aware of the image in your head can help you to avoid chasing these false beliefs that you should be better and instead shift this energy on what really makes a difference in the way you feel. Write down a list of all the features your imagined self has. Now reflect on everything you’ve written down. Ask yourself: are these traits achievable? Are they realistic? Why do I want to be this person?

Real change in how you feel emotionally begins with becoming aware of the destructive thoughts and beliefs in your mind. The next step and the most challenging is changing these core beliefs.

Own your mistakes

The way I challenged my core beliefs was by starting to change my negative thoughts into positive convictions that wouldn’t feed my self-perfectionism. For instance, instead of ripping up an illustration that I thought looked horrendous, I would put it to the side instead. Usually I would throw away my mistakes because I was ashamed I had actually made them; they were a reminder that I ‘wasn’t good enough’.

In time, I have learnt to keep my mistakes and tell myself something positive; ‘just because that piece of work doesn’t look the way you want, doesn’t make you a failure. It’s a vital step of improvement. Ripping it up doesn’t benefit you.’ 

During the initial stages, I couldn’t bare to look at my growing pile of work that I hated so much. However, overtime I found I enjoyed looking at them and seeing my progression. Instead of my confidence taking a harsh kick, each time I created a drawing that I thought didn’t look good, I would instead look at it as a positive by seeing how much better I was becoming. My thoughts became budding flowers that little bees could draw nectar from instead of thorns that made me bleed.

Be realistic

Debatably the biggest issue for perfectionists is that the standards set are way too high and their goals are not realistic. Setting goals that are reachable is a vital part of overcoming perfectionism. Realistic goals require you to face obstacles but also allow the likelihood of success. This doesn’t mean you are a failure because you’re striving for smaller mountains but ones that actually exist!

Start with the next goal that comes your way and aim for what you consider to be a 90%, instead of 100%. Don’t beat yourself up for not reaching that 100% but analyse what happened:

Did the sky come crashing down?

Were there any negative consequences?

If everything was fine- which likely it will be- then lower your standards to 80% for the next goal. Afterwards, take some time to reflect; perhaps you may come to the conclusion that your previous standards were unrealistic and you are just as great at what you consider to be 100% as you were at your 80%.  Overtime, you will learn to understand the difference between realistic standards and unobtainable ones. From here you can start setting yourself more realistic goals. Once it is reached, you can set another that is just a little further off. In time, you will be able to look down from a great mountain and see the progress you have made with the knowledge that reaching for ‘perfection’ would never have gotten you to the top.

Life is in a constant flux. Even if you obtained the impossible task of self-perfection and everything in your life was absolutely ‘perfect’- it is guaranteed to be short lived. Accepting that you will never be ‘finished’ and focusing on the destination will only reinforce your perfection tendencies. Keep in mind that the destination is just the cherry on top. It is the ice cream, chocolate sauce, sprinkles and marshmallows that are the enjoyable parts. You can’t leave your day job yet you should be proud that your side business is growing day by day. You can’t get to the end of that intensive ab workout video but find satisfaction that you’ve gotten through one quarter of the video on your first try.

It is the mistakes, failures and imperfections that make the journey. Fight the imperfections for it will only wreak havoc on your life. Look around you: focus on the beauty in nature- it’s not perfect but it’s wonderful nonetheless.

Live your best life by applying this advice and overcoming perfectionism.

Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn’t know it so it goes on flying anyway.

~Mary Kay Ash


Pinafore: BA&SH Pini Detail Mini Dress

Booties: Glamorous Black Embellished Bee Heeled Ankle Boots

Blouse: Vero Moda Bumble Bee Shirt