Is Your Perfectionism Getting in the Way of Success?

By Salina Grilli, LMSW

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been victimized by your own perfectionism. SAME. While I consider myself a “recovering’”perfectionist (as an old supervisor once poignantly reflected), I sometimes find myself falling back into the perfectionist trap.

In general, I’m efficient at writing. I sit down with an idea, write a rough draft, edit it a couple times, and then submit. For whatever reason, writing this piece was different. I found myself procrastinating and re-writing it over and over again trying to get it “right.” Which I will admit is ironic given that this article is about perfectionism. Once I realized what I had fallen into the perfectionist trap, I was able to get myself out. 

So what is perfectionism? In “The Perfectionism Workbook,” perfectionism is defined as a “disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable.” 

While society views perfectionism as an admiral trait, individuals who deal with perfectionism on a day-to-day basis know otherwise. Perfectionists often find themselves trapped in their rigid, unrelenting standards and never feeling good enough. I liken this personality trait to a hamster running on a wheel. You are chasing after a desire to feel accomplished/good enough, but you essentially run yourself ragged. 

It is no surprise that individuals with perfectionistic traits often experience higher levels of anxiety and depression, low self-confidence, and are at a higher risk of developing eating disorder and disordered eating. Procrastination and avoidance are also common among perfectionists. 

How can we turn our perfectionism into an asset? Perfectionism, however, can be an asset if you can dial it back in such a way that gives space for self-compassion and self-reflection.  This entails cultivating a healthier inner critic and normalizing all emotions. 

You don’t need to get rid of your goals or aspirations. Rather, you need to honor the fact that perfect does not exist and learn to embrace failures as a normal part of life and a way to learn. 

Where can I start?

Do one thing every day that is imperfect or that scares you. I often assign my perfectionistic clients homework to do one thing every day that is either ‘imperfect’ or that scares them. Some examples that clients have done are wearing an outfit that doesn’t match, posting an unfiltered photo to their social media, and saying no to plans. 

Feel your feelings. Perfectionism at its core is a way to avoid confronting your problems and feeling uncomfortable feeling. The focus on external feedback, achieving goals and pleasing others enables you to avoid and distract from what’s your emotions and thoughts. 

Remember, change is a process. Your perfectionism didn’t develop over night and it certainty isn’t going anywhere by tomorrow. Little changes over time add up to noticeable improvements in your well-being.   

Salina Grilli is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you are looking for support in finding solutions to enhance your overall wellness, contact Cobb Psychotherapy by calling 718-260-6042 or emailing reception@cobbpsychotherapy.com, and see how therapy can help.

Elizabeth Cobb