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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Pollard, MSW RSW

Perfectionism shrinks your life; self-compassion expands it.

Updated: Apr 16

Does it ever feel like no matter how much you do it is never enough? Perfectionism creates unrealistic (often unattainable) standards that keep you focused on doing more and being more. It suffocates you with fear, telling you that you can never make a mistake or fail, that if you mess up, you are not only going to look stupid, but you are stupid. Perfectionism triggers feelings of guilt, shame, and fear. It makes you feel like you have to ‘hustle’ for your worthiness, that you need to prove that you are smart enough, strong enough, hard working enough, independent enough and can handle it all. Needing help or struggling is a sign of weakness, perfectionism whispers. Yet, perfectionism also triggers procrastination as the expectations you set for yourself feel so unreachable that there is no point in trying. Perfectionism and people-pleasing also go hand-in-hand, as both are focused on controlling how others see us.

When I was a young adult, I wore my perfectionism like a badge of honor. It stood for being a hard worker, having fantastic attention to detail, and ‘always’ giving it my all. However, it also prevented me from taking meaningful risks and often left me feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and that I had said ‘yes’ to everyone but myself. This is still my default mode of operation, but it has been changing with time and practice. What has helped me personally- and most of my clients- is balancing perfectionism with self-compassion. Self-compassion reminds us that everyone makes mistakes, no one is perfect and that our actions do not define our worth. It encourages us to make the decision to be enough, just as we are. In doing so, we are able to be more vulnerable, authentic, and connected to ourselves and others. Sounds good, right?

Listed below are small changes to ease up on the pressure, let go of control, create wiggle room for mistakes, and respond to yourself with more kindness (and less criticism!) while still being rooted in your values of working hard and healthy striving.

1.      Acceptance. Accepting yourself, as you are, is the key to maximizing your strengths, learning from areas of challenge, and striving towards self-improvement based on your own values. It also means less comparison and WAY less judgment.

2.      Courage. Compassion allows you to take mindful risks, try new things, and do your ‘best’ in that moment. It might mean submitting the paper even if you ‘could’ve done better’ with more time or resources. It might also mean applying for the job that reflects your interests and values, rather than staying in a job that you despise, but is familiar to you. It can also mean taking up a new hobby that you are not ‘good at,’ at first (or ever), but that you enjoy, nonetheless.

3.      Persistence. The other day, my partner said to me, “progress doesn’t demand perfection, just persistence.” I agree wholeheartedly! Small steps add up to big changes. We often seek quick fixes or ‘life hacks’ that allow us to bypass the discomfort of change and growth. However, to create sustainable change, you need to be patient, steadfast and even flexible with your goals. You can do this by focusing on the process rather than the end result, and by acknowledging and even celebrating the small wins along the way!

4.      Take the middle path. Perfectionism lives in the world of absolutes, dichotomies and all-or-nothing thinking. You are either a success or a failure. You are either a hard worker or lazy. You are either perfect or flawed. Recovering from perfectionism is seeing the space between, walking the middle path, and seeing that you can be successful and fail at things, that you can work hard and rest, and that we are all flawed and that is what makes us fabulous.

Many people are afraid that if they let go of their perfectionism, that they will become lazy, unmotivated or stop caring. However, what you will discover is that you actually care more about the things that matter and let go of the things that do not. You will not lose your work ethic, your accountability, your honesty, or your drive, instead you will compliment it with courage and compassion, which expands your life.

If you struggle with perfectionism, people-pleasing, or procrastination, consider connecting with me or the mental health professional of your choice to gain support and guidance through the recovery process.


References & resources:

Brown, Brene. (2020). The gifts of imperfection (10th anniversary edition).

Kemp, Jennifer. (2021). The ACT workbook for Perfectionism.


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