5 Ways to Break Free From Perfectionism

By Nina Bradshaw is a professionally qualified social worker and therapist in the UK. She earned a Master's Degree in Personality Disorder Studies, a Master's Degree in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and a Master's Degree in Sociology/Social Policy/Social Work.

Sober Recovery Expert Author

People who are perfectionists tend to like being in control. For some, this may stem from a deep-rooted feeling of insecurity caused by a traumatic childhood where things may have been chaotic and out of control. For others, it may be the only way they can feel valued and loved after growing up in a home where positive attention was conditional upon achievement.

Perfectionists hardly feel good enough and are constantly striving for recognition. At times, they push themselves so hard that it becomes emotionally draining and can lead to depression. Some end up coping with the pressure through addictive substances, which enables them to escape the dreadful feelings of inadequacy.

People who are perfectionists tend to like being in control, but experience a great deal of emotional stress when things go haywire. Here are 5 tips to help you become just a little more forgiving when life doesn’t go exactly as planned.

If you’re looking to unshackle yourself from this debilitating way of life, you’ll have to start by finding a more realistic perspective of yourself. Here are 5 tips to help you become just a little more forgiving when life doesn’t go exactly as planned.

1. Practice self-compassion.

We often find it much easier to show compassion for other people than ourselves. Think of a friend who is going through a tough situation. Would you judge and berate them, or would you offer them encouragement and praise? When someone else commits a mishap, we’ll likely run to comfort them and show empathy, but we’ll somehow beat ourselves up when we do the same. One way to start letting go of perfectionism is to extend the same amount of kindness you show others to yourself from time to time. When you know you’ve worked hard in order to accomplish something, give yourself praise, treat yourself to something you really enjoy or just give yourself some time to relax.

2. Change your internal dialogue.

We’re our own worst critic. Chances are we would never consider speaking to our loved ones the way we speak to ourselves. If your internal chatter consists of, “You jerk! You messed that up,” “You must try harder,” or “What a terrible person you are for not getting that right,” then you are engaging in negative self-talk. These kinds of thoughts are common among perfectionists and the best way to break free is by switching up your tone with yourself. Whenever you notice that you’re starting to put yourself down, change your thoughts and focus on something more encouraging. If you have difficulty doing this, try writing down a list of more positive and sympathetic things you can say. With continuous practice, you’ll find that your inner dialogue will become less critical and more supportive over time.

3. Deliberately make mistakes.

Mistakes are part of human nature, but perfectionists find them to be a source of dread and shame. After all, they strive extremely hard not to make any mistakes in order to avoid possible harsh judgment from others. What many don’t realize, however, is that mistakes can sometimes lead to innovation. One way to begin pushing your boundaries is by deliberately messing up just to see what the outcome can be. Allow yourself to be a little less perfect and see how others react. Generally, people don’t overtly criticize others for their mistakes and tend to be sympathetic as they see the individual as simply being human.

4. Let go of control.

Fear of the unknown drives perfectionists to want to control everything, which can be very tiring. Through various meditation techniques, they can learn to relax, let go of their anxieties about the future and relieve the pressure to be perfect 24/7. Once they accept that it’s OK to sometimes let certain situations sort themselves out, they’ll find that their daily life will become a little easier.

5. Accept that we and the world are far from perfect, and that’s okay.

Difference, diversity and unexpected things are part of the spice of life. We tend to see the things that make other people unique as endearing. However, we look at ourselves and find them as faults that need to be eradicated. The truth is that everyone’s flaws are what make life interesting, and although sometimes they can cause unsavory things to happen, we need to accept that this is just the way of the world—filled with many moments of glorious ups and, sometimes, tragic downs. Once we’re able to accept this, we’ll become more forgiving of our own mishaps and instead recognize all the wonderful things that each of us offer that make life a little more enjoyable.

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