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Where Does Perfectionism Come From, And How Do I Overcome It?

Where Does Perfectionism Come From, And How Do I Overcome It?
Where Does Perfectionism Come From, And How Do I Overcome It?

Where Does Perfectionism Come From, And How Do I Overcome It?

When we think of perfectionism, we often associate it with high performance. It’s the domain of creative geniuses, all-star athletes, and high-powered professionals who hold themselves and the people around them to exacting standards. Television is full of larger-than-life characters burning with intensity and exploding on-screen. But perfectionism has a darker side as well—depression, anxiety, and emotional outbursts.

As often as it helps people get ahead, perfectionism holds people back. It can snuff out the flame of our creative spark, cause us to isolate, and keep us from exploring new opportunities because of a fear of failure.

Overcoming perfectionism requires understanding that it’s often a reaction to trauma or childhood influences.


1. Early Childhood

Perfectionism—fittingly—likes to get an early start. It often starts in childhood as a response to a high-pressure environment, either at home or school. Children whose parents pressure them to succeed academically or athletically often feel their worth is tied to achievements. Mistakes feel catastrophic. Failure becomes an existential threat. Have you ever felt that if you aren’t perfect, you aren’t worthy of love? If so, this could describe you.

2. Social Influences

It’s tempting to compare ourselves to others, but it’s important to remember that what we’re comparing ourselves to is often not the whole picture. Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and other social media can devastate our self-confidence. When we ingest carefully curated content put out by social influencers, it risks creating a set of unrealistic expectations.

3. Trauma & Control

While we think of perfectionism as a personality trait, it can also be understood as a coping mechanism. Trauma attacks our sense of self and security. Physical and emotional abuse makes us feel unsafe—they erode our sense of agency and control. Perfectionism is the pursuit of control. For many, high performance means safety. The flip side is that pursuing perfection becomes a source of anxiety. If something isn’t perfect, it’s not good enough. Life becomes a dangerous, unhealthy binary.

Overcoming Perfectionism

Confronting a lifetime of perfectionist tendencies can feel overwhelming. It’s a habit developed over time, and like any habit, it can be difficult to shake. However, there are many therapeutic tools and techniques to help you embrace a little ambiguity and imperfection in your life.

1. Start By Taking Small Bites

This one may be hard, but it’s a good place to start. Whether learning a new skill or embarking on a new project, imagine you’re an adult helping a little kid learn. Our inner child is drawn to big dreams and lofty ambitions. Those are wonderful traits! In this case, your job is to imagine that your big dreams and lofty ambitions are coming from your inner child. You can help them by managing their expectations.

Make a plan to succeed. Teach them to expect that there will be failures on the road to success. Remind them that you love them, even if they don’t cross the finish line.

2. Progress, Not Perfection

Similarly, emphasize making progress, not pursuing perfection. It’s unreasonable to expect yourself to pick up a guitar and master it in an afternoon—focus on setting small, achievable goals for yourself. Measure your progress instead of comparing yourself to others.

3. Kindness, Not Criticism

Creative folks often struggle to put their art out into the world. If you’re going to overcome your perfectionism, one of the first places to start is by extending yourself the same kindness you’d show other people. Focus on what you did right instead of what you did wrong.

4. Counseling

While it’s possible to overcome perfectionism, it isn’t easy. If you’re struggling to let go of the anxiety that comes with perfectionism, consider reaching out to a therapist for help. In many cases, perfectionism is rooted in complex early childhood experiences that impact us as adults. A trained therapist can help guide you through understanding and repairing those experiences.

Next Steps

Learning to embrace yourself with kindness, compassion, and appreciation for all that makes you uniquely human is no easy feat. With support, you can learn to change unhelpful thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that keep you stuck in the quest for perfection. Reach out to us today to set up a consultation.


Through Therapy Collective

Our team of culturally competent therapists is here to offer a warm and safe space to help you navigate life’s hardships with a sense of encouragement and empathy. Find out more >

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