Struggling With Perfectionism? Here's How to Overcome It

Mental Health Scholar and Psychologist, Sanjoni Sethi elucidates the factors responsible for this learned trait, as well as how to manage it in your day-to-day life. 

01 July, 2021
Struggling With Perfectionism? Here's How to Overcome It

Perfectionism is a multimodal personality trait—characterised by several different modes of activity or occurrence. And, while many individuals engage in 'healthy perfectionism', most others breed on 'unhealthy perfectionism' that may become a serious cause of concern in the future.  

"Those individuals who seek pleasure from the efforts they have put in and strive for perfection without undermining their self-esteem are said to be healthy perfectionists. On the flip side, perfectionist concern arises when one sets an unrealistic and outstanding benchmark of performance for themselves and becomes highly critical of their own behaviour. This results in exceedingly high expectations from oneself, others, and one that is socially perceived," explains Ms Sethi.  

Several psychological theories have found a basis of explanation for the development of perfectionist traits among early parent-child relationships. "The need for approval may emerge as a result of the attachment style with an authority figure. Controlling and demanding forms of parenting—involving unrealistic demands and consequent criticism—can impact the child negatively, giving way to poor self-worth. Such self-beliefs are internalised early on and may cause the individual to construe their social environment as competitive and judgmental in adulthood. They may also push people away to avoid making mistakes, be perfect, and secure approval," she adds.


If you're one of those who experience profound distress owing to your need to be perfect, read on to find out how to manage this self-destructive trait. 


Perspective Shifting


Questioning one's worthiness based on the inability to meet standards of perfection might suggest attending to information negatively. For instance, achieving a B grade on an examination might make one believe — "I am a failure". To overcome this skewed perception, list down the reasons you received a B grade, assign a percentage to each explanation, create a pie-chart using the percentage value, and visually gauge the various reasons contributing to the obtained result.


Avoid Rigid Rules


Practices such as constant checking and an all-or-none approach can impede work-related timelines and fear change. It is important that you become aware of the 'must', 'have', and 'should' statements that contribute to perfectionism — "I must finish work before everyone else, so I am valued". Identify such statements when working for yourself and others. Mindfully, allow yourself to come up with a helpful rule — "I’ll try to complete my work keeping the deadline in mind".




Attempt behavioural experiments to cope with the burden of perfectionism. For instance, if you avoid delegating responsibilities to others—fearing the result wouldn't be as per your desire—engage in an experiment. Ask your children to clean the house a day prior to when your house guests are arriving, so that you get enough time to oversee the job. Likewise, delegate work to employees and overlook the reports before submission. Instead of leaving thirty minutes early for an appointment, try to reduce the time to fifteen and see if you end up getting late. Avoid jumping to conclusions beforehand, give yourself time to try. 


Use Self-Doubt to Your Benefit


Negative feelings associated with perfectionism can include — "Am I good enough to do this?" Allow yourself to set realistic goals by being mindful of your strengths and limitations. Plus, include positive self-doubting questions such as, "What else can I do to improve my work?", and give yourself the scope to improve. Basically, be aware of others strengths and provide room to yourself for betterment.


Convert Self-Criticism to Self-Compassion


Self-criticism and socially perceived self-criticism often gives rise to feelings of shame, guilt, anger, and disappointment. Use self-compassionate practices to deal with perfectionistic traits. Some of these include the use of mindfulness (for example, learn to minimise judgement towards yourself), self-affirmative positive statements (for example, "I made an error due to multiple commitments and I’ll try to manage better the next time"), and strength-based self-instruction to complete tasks (for example, healthy self-talk and reminders).


Set a Time Limit


Set a deadline or a time limit when planning out your goals. Often, being preoccupied with perfection might lead to procrastination, causing you to miss out on deadlines and timelines. Thereby, set strict time limits to achieve a task and measure your progress without judging yourself. Use mindfulness practices to adopt a non-judgmental approach towards yourself and others. 


Analyse Your Perfectionism


Prepare a pro and con list for yourself. List the advantages of handling things perfectly as well as the disadvantages of the same. This will allow you to establish a cost-benefit analysis and weigh the pros and cons of practising perfectionism. Further, it might bring about the willingness to change. 


Constructive Criticism 


Use journaling to work on your thoughts and rigid belief systems. The practice of journaling allows space for self-reflection in your day-to-day life. This technique will help you keep a check on yourself, along with questioning yourself — "Am I result-oriented (is the outcome perfect?) or am I process-oriented (what’s this event going to teach me?)". Define keywords including success, achievement, accomplishment, and learn to modify them using self-compassionate language. Overall, explore the root or origin of the perfectionist trait you possess and use this knowledge to redefine the crux of perfection.