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Perfectionist - How to overcome perfectionism

Updated on June 4, 2016

What is perfectionism or a perfectionist

The word perfectionism or perfectionist has always caused a slight feeling of uneasiness within me. I had not fully understood what it is to be a perfectionist or live with one. I never gave the word perfectionism much thought. Yet of late, I had to be reacquainted with this word. I decided to actually deal with this subject.

Perfectionism is often thought of as a great quality to be associated with. Though it would seem great at the superficial level, it may not be so in reality. When obsessiveness comes into play, nothing much gets done and the person is faced with the fear of falling below the mark, procrastination becomes the order of the day. These are just some of the problems associated with perfectionism. Such individuals barely realize that they have a problem.


A perfectionist

I am reminded of Erica Jong, a novelist, writer and winner of many awards, who says this about herself - “I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged. I had pieces that were re-written so many times I suspect it was just a way of avoiding sending them out.”

Perfectionists believe that anything that is less than perfect is unacceptable work. They are the ones are never satisfied with any of their work or output and are constantly comparing themselves and their work with others. Their obsession to turn out work that is nothing less than perfect, constitutes it a rather unhealthy approach to life and sometimes making them poorly adapted to the surroundings.

Having high standards and expectations is good, but the downside to this is that perfectionists are constantly berating themselves for not matching up to these standards.

They hardly enjoy their lives or what they are doing, though they take pride in their work. They suffer needlessly because they are not satisfied with even the near perfect work. They are their worst critics.

The problems perfectionists face

Perfectionists hardly seem to see anything good in themselves. They are unable to enjoy a major part of their life. The fear of failure never allows them the luxury of finishing a task and looking back at it with satisfaction. Fear of failure plagues them constantly and they do not want to be found wanting or having made mistakes.

This is indeed a sad state of affairs: on one hand, we glorify achievement and excellence; on the other; we place ourselves and others under so much stress to perform far beyond their potential or their calling in life.

Perfectionism affects children the most, they are forced do the things their parents want them to do, they are also forced to do them the way parents want them to do… slowly learning to fulfill expectations of others and have no regard for their own thinking or have any self-esteem or self-confidence in the long run.

Overcome perfectionism - why? How?

I was recently asked a question – I am doing well so far, so why should I change now?

Here is why…

Perfectionism is often confused with excellence. Those who seek after excellence seek completion of jobs with high standards. Perfectionists hardly ever seem to complete much, they hem and haw and dawdle over everything that they take up.

People who seek excellence are driven by the motivation to succeed, while perfectionists are often driven by fear of failure.

Perfectionists spend more time deciding and processing data before they get on the task. That is not bad in itself, but more often than not, the time taken does not justify the end.

Perfectionist are often unable to handle hurdles or roadblocks on the way, even small difficulties turn out to be huge de-motivators that make them feel like failures. They hardly seem to progress, or move forward at such a pace that it is not noticeable.

Perfectionists are never completely happy or live life to the full. They are too fearful and anxious to enjoy anything in life, even their own successes. All their life, they suffer due to no fault of theirs 

Perfectionists are often hard to live with even for themselves, but much more for others. Nobody ever measures up or nobody ever does a good job. They find it uncomfortable to accept help, because their ways of doing things are different from those of the others and they have to essentially do most of the things themselves, they are poor team players. They make things hard for themselves apart from the fact that their self esteem and self confidence is at the lowest.

Perfectionists are hard on themselves, highly critical of their performances, anxious, self- conscious, driven by anxiety and fear, and may have social phobias. They are preoccupied with making mistakes.

My personal uneasiness came from my father who was a perfectionist. He could never appreciate our efforts, though he tried hard. Life with him was always about what he would think. Thankfully, I was not marred by that, as a person I had my own ideas and ways of doing things. I find so many children have tough times with perfectionist parents who can never appreciate or say anything positive about their wards. They grow up being insecure, not so confident, never performing to their potential.

Overcoming perfectionism

The obsession with details often prevents you from seeing the bigger picture, this can not only make your progress slow but can reach a pathological level.

Now that you are convinced that perfectionism has its bad side, all you need to do is decide to change your thoughts and change your life.

Understand that it is human to make mistakes and it is okay to fail. Once in a while, allow yourself to really mess things up (but make sure it is not a very important task)

It is great to set high standards, but you can allow yourself to lower the standards a couple of notches down – remember it is done all the time, even great economies devalue their currencies if need be.

Change Focus. Since you already have a high standard of attention to details, now focus on areas of weakness to strike a balance in life, yes this is the time to look at increasing your output to match your quality.

You are not a success or a failure; you are you, an individual with a whole bunch of good qualities. Evaluating yourself based on relative terms like success and failure may actually mean nothing.

Stop being your own enemy, yes being over critical of yourself is almost like being your worst enemy; learn to appreciate yourself for all that you are.

Criticism should never be taken as personal affront, learn to handle that as suggestions for improvement.

Use positive affirmation or power affirmation to build your self-confidence and self-worth.

Take up tasks that can be done without too much attention to detail, ignore your tendency to focus on finer details, and have as much fun as possible with it, this is one way of making work fun not drudgery and fear.

Allow yourself to make a few mistakes. Stop being hard on yourself. Ignore thoughts that push you to correct or berate you, tell yourself it is okay to make mistakes.

Keep your mind on the bigger picture rather than nitpicking with finer details that most average people would not even know existed.

Make sure to enjoy what you do. When enjoyment is associated with the task, the focus is now shifted to the fun you are having doing it rather than the task itself.

Remember that your old habits die hard, so keep alert to make sure you are not getting stuck in the finer details. Ensure that progress is never sacrificed at the altar of small details.

Keep track of your thoughts, do not allow fear and anxiety to plague you, keep programming your mind with positive self-building thoughts.

Wishing you a highly productive and excellent life!

I always look forward to your comments, they add value to my hubs, so please do feel free to add your comments

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    • sofs profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Jn, What a joy it is to hear from you, thank you for your kind words, yes perfectionist are more harsh on themselves than the people around them. I love your attitude and openness to change, lowering the bar a little will definitely take the stress off you. A flash of genius perhaps, yes I have read all those hubs, I know what you mean.

      You are precious I have been thinking of you!! Kindness is all we can ever share with others. Thank you for making my day, best wishes for the season to you and your family and God Bless.

    • Absent Friend profile image

      Absent Friend 

      10 years ago

      ThankYou Sofs. I had a "A-Ha! moment", that is to say a realisation that this perfectionism is at the root of all my problems. When I was faced with true love (see Hubs), I would not let myself have it because I saw only my failings and undealt with problems etc.

      Everything you've said about perfection is true; such types often respond to what they see as imperfections with a cheeky "humour" to downright insults which none of us deserves.

      Once again You have proved that you are an invaluable, priceless assett to hubpages without question. you should be in the high nineties for your kindness alone. And wisdom in unlocking the door, aiming for excellent!!!!! Perhaps a flash of Genius? -I shouldn't wonder from now on I will aim for "Very Good!" and if I achieve Excellence it will be a bonus -no longer a demand but a nice surprise.

      Thank You, once again! Best Wishes for the season.


    • sofs profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Hi Laurel, great to see you here. Hey, though perfectionist are driven by fear..whether it is of failure or success, it is something that can be overcome. You just need to stop being your worst critic, be more compassionate to your self and treat yourself the way you would treat others.

      Laurel, I see people overcoming this problem all the time , it is not as difficult as you think, I am sure you will soon come out of it. Lots of love ((((hugs))) and God Bless!!

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 

      10 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      Hey, sofs! This is a wonderful article on a most difficult topic. Along with the fear of failure comes the fear of success, something many people have told me is one of my greatest character flaws. I think they're right-I often can't write without second-guessing myself.

      The 'inner editor' is a harsh mistress.

      Thanks for this. Great work!

    • sofs profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Hi schoolgirlforreal, you are welcome here, most of us are stuck to certain ways of doing things..but as long as it does not hinder our enjoyment of life or that of the others around us it is well within the limits of normalcy.

      I am glad that you are not caught up in the net of perfectionism.. and thank you so much for your visit and comment. I appreciate this.

    • schoolgirlforreal profile image


      10 years ago

      Wow! I thought I was a "perfectionist"!! but I'm far from it! lol.

      I like things neat, and I like "control" over my surroundings but I def have confidence and post hubs till I bleed Lol, and though I love to win at chess, I'm not a perfectionist ;) nice hub thou!

    • sofs profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Loves to read, this is indeed a real problem, a problem that has an appealing side to it, most of us want to have the perfect look, the perfect smile the perfect body, perfect children that we would do anything to be perfect, but at what cost... Yes I think it is time we realized.

      Thank you for your insightful comment, they are always appreciated .

    • Loves To Read profile image

      Loves To Read 

      10 years ago

      Great hub sofs, Sadly this is a very real problem and is far more common than most people may realize. You have done a wonderful job in addressing this subject. Often awareness help to explain why people behave as they do.

      Love and Hugs

    • sofs profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Flobe striving towards excellence is much more attainable and productive than perfectionism, when we strive towards excellence we have the bigger picture in mind and the finer details that actually don't matter much, get blurred.

      I did read and comment on your hub and as always we seem to be in agreement.

      Thank you Flobe for your comment, it is truly appreciated. God bless!!

    • FloBe profile image

      Flo Belanger 

      10 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I agree that perfectionism is paralyzing. I wrote a hub on the Procrastinating Perfectionist which agrees with you in that the struggle for perfection usually ends up in incomplete projects/tasks. I like what you say about striving toward excellence instead...that is attainable!

    • sofs profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Nclark, glad that this made you introspect.. most of us are perfectionist is some ways.. but when it impairs our output and our ability to function normally that is when we really need to worry.

      We just need to tune our selves to seek after excellence.. a little tweak is all that is needed.

      Thank you for stopping by and letting me know, I appreciate it.

    • nclark140 profile image


      10 years ago from Deep Dirty South

      Great hub. Alot of it really hit home. It left me thinking.. hmmm I wonder if I'm like that?

    • sofs profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Wow, so you own up... but on a serious note too much attention to unwanted details make perfectionists take their eyes off the bigger picture, thereby making no progress.

      Yes, relax be positive, don't worry about making mistakes and take help when needed, you are only human is the message that needs to go out.

      Thanks Tim, for your perfect summary of the hub in a nutshell and thanks for the very positive comment.

    • timorous profile image

      Tim Nichol 

      10 years ago from Me to You

      Ok...guilty as charged. Haha! Sure, I sometimes sweat the little things, but I always keep the big picture in mind. Actually some perfectionists enjoy attending to the fine details, even though some of them aren't all that important.'re quite right sofs, we should ease up on the details..relax, and be positive, and not worry about making mistakes. I'm getting there..bit by bit. Nice, informative work. Cheers. :)


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