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Perfectionism is Not Your Friend

Do you ever feel like things are just not good enough, to the point you have a hard time completing tasks? One word isn’t right, the image not quite what you hoped, something doesn’t look quite right?

This causes you to spend valuable time on little details that in the end probably don’t matter that much anyway.

Maybe you have missed deadlines or you never seem to get major projects done, procrastinating because you know what a huge job it will be to get it “perfect”.

You may have been the kid in elementary school who erased your paper until it was torn, trying to make sure your words and penmanship were perfect.

This trait we call perfectionism isn’t always the great attribute that it sounds like. Sometimes it can be your greatest enemy.

This can apply to your personal life as well as your career and your parenting. Perfectionism doesn’t tend to exist in just one area. It is important to keep that ambitious drive and attention to detail at a healthy point for your well-being as well as for those around you.

Where Does It Come From?

Perfectionism originates in different ways for different people. There is perfectionism that stems from the need to control, which is generally anxiety based. Perfectionism can also arise from low self-esteem and constantly pushing yourself to be “good enough”. You may have come from the dysfunctional family style that I call the “Never Good Enoughs”.  You may have always been trying to please your parents or one parent who could never be pleased. The tendency to continue that pattern doesn’t typically end when you turn 18 and leave home.

You may find yourself carrying perfectionistic traits into your home life, becoming critical of your spouse and children. You may feel a need to constantly prove yourself to neighbors, colleagues, friends and family.

Perfectionists tend to suffer anxiety and often have trouble sleeping, worrying and ruminating over the day’s happenings or what should have happened and what will happen tomorrow. Unresolved emotional hurt or anger may be lurking in the background screaming to be let go. Perfectionists tend to be the ones developing gastrointestinal difficulties and headaches as well as high blood pressure.

If you think this is you and that perfectionistic traits may be interfering with your happiness and success, here are a few tips to start to bring yourself into a healthier balance. Remember this may be a deeply ingrained pattern and will take a little time to overcome.

At Work:

  1. Get your tasks done-for the most part you can add, delete or otherwise alter just about anything later on-keep the forward inertia.
  2. Remember a small mistake does not define you. A boo boo does not scream “loser!”
  3. One mistake is also not likely to cost you your business. It may cause a set back but is not usually the crisis it seems at the time. Regroup and try a new path. Use a decision tree to help with important decisions.
  4. Be careful not to be overly critical with employees. They will give up or not even try hard for you if they feel that all their efforts will be met with harsh criticism. Why try hard if they are going to be criticized anyway?

Perfectionists often believe there is always room for improvement, and even though this may be true at times, it often has the reverse effect of causing those around you to give up.

  1. Delegate-perfectionists tend to believe they can do it all themselves, or that in order to get it done “right” they have to do everything themselves. This will slow down your success and waste valuable time.

At Home:

  1. This applies to your children’s homework as well. Remember if your children never feel successful they will not develop healthy self-esteem and will ultimately depend on others to do things for them or will become critical themselves. Help them but don’t do it.
  2. Leave something undone or “not quite right” and then study it. How are you responding to it? Write down the dialogue that comes to mind and any related thoughts. Are they your thoughts or thoughts based on something you learned in childhood? Take note of your bodily response also, what is your level of distress? Do you need a little or a lot of work in this area?
  3. Remember #4 above, don’t be overly critical with your spouse or children. They will give up trying if they feel like nothing is ever good enough, including their very best efforts.
  4. Envision a life where you are not stressed, where you have more time to pay attention to things that are important and that feel good. In an effort to be a “perfect” parent with the “perfect” kids and the “perfect job”, you cheat yourself out of any pleasurable moments.


This article is not intended to be a treaty in running your business or your life in a haphazard fashion with no attention whatsoever to detail. Perfectionism does not necessarily need to be completely removed from your personality, just brought into a place where it is not creating stress or interpersonal problems. You control it, it doesn’t control you.  You will know when you feel this happening.

Details can be very important and it is recognizing which ones are and which ones are not that is the key to a peaceful and productive existence.

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