How to Stop Being a Perfectionist and Love Yourself

a happy man in the park

A happy man in the park | Source: iStock

If you’re a perfectionist, you know it. You want it all: to excel at your job, to have a happy home life, to look good, and to do everything well and by the books. To put it simply, perfectionists want to live within a perfect existence. This desire is well-founded considering we live in a world where perfectionists like Steve Jobs, Michael Jackson, and Leonardo Da Vinci are applauded for their work and stand out as notable influencers in our society. Perfectionism often leads to great things as perfectionists have a habit of devoting themselves fully — even obsessively — to doing whatever they do with excellence.

While on the surface perfectionism may be thought of as a desirable quality, this personality trait has a dark side. Dr. Brene Brown studied vulnerability, worthiness, shame, and courage for over a decade and has a slightly more realistic view of perfectionism. In an interview with Oprah, she expressed her understanding of perfectionism and some of the factors driving perfectionists.

What emerged for me in this data is that perfectionism is not about striving for excellence or healthy striving. It’s … a way of thinking and feeling that says this: “If I look perfect, do it perfect, work perfect, and live perfect, I can avoid or minimize shame, blame, and judgment.”

If you’re a proud perfectionist, it may be time to delve a bit deeper into what’s driving you. By understanding what leads you to seek perfectionism and knowing how to handle your natural impulses, you’ll be better able to control those unattainable expectations. 

Notice negative self-dialogue

a depressed man thinking

A man thinking | Source: iStock

For most people a little self-criticism can be a good thing as it spurs one to become a better person. Perfectionists take this to the next level, by beating themselves up over tiny mistakes and berating themselves whenever things don’t go as planned. As a perfectionist, skipping your morning run may become something that has the ability to ruin your entire day and a small setback at work may lead to hours of self-hate and anger toward yourself. Take a step back and objectively witness your inner self-dialogue. Be aware of the thoughts that cross your mind and the actions you take when something doesn’t follow your plan.

Re-evaluate your expectations

As a perfectionist chances are likely that you have extremely high expectations for yourself in almost every area of your life. While everyone aspires to dedicate more time to their family, work performance, and personal health, a perfectionist will create unattainable expectations based on their ideals. They want to be recognized at work, have a perfectly happy home life, and their idea of an ideal physique. When these expectations aren’t met, which they often aren’t, perfectionists won’t be able to shrug it off and move on; they have a tendency to believe that anything short of perfection is unacceptable. To beat the chances of constant, hard-hitting failure, you need to get back to the root of it all by creating realistic, attainable expectations.

Practice self-compassion

a relaxed man breathing and meditating

A man relaxing | Source: iStock

Perfectionists don’t do well with failure, but no matter how hard you try to avoid it, failure is bound to happen. Sooner or later something you say will lead to a major fight with your partner or you’ll miss your kid’s piano recital. When things don’t go as planned or you don’t meet your expectations, you’ll naturally be hard on yourself, beating yourself up over what you did wrong. When this happens, take a deep breath and practice some self-love. Be kind and understanding with yourself in the moments when you fail or make a mistake. Let self-compassion take the place of your typical harsh and critical inner dialogue.

Break down your goals

Everyone has a bucket list or series of goals they want to accomplish in life. For most people, that list contains impressive feats like writing a bestselling novel, running a marathon, learning a second language, or losing 40 pounds. Everyone aspires to do more and live better, but perfectionists take these ambitious to-dos to the next level and may pressure themselves until they complete the task. To beat the struggle of perfectionism, it helps to keep your goals small as you build toward the end goal. Take it slow and be rational about the challenges and inevitable setbacks that will come your way as you move forward.

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