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  • Writer's pictureC Killeen

How to break free from Perfectionism

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

Understand that Perfectionism is a Coping Mechanism

I am a recovering perfectionist. I used to get so overwhelmed by tasks that I felt I had to do perfectly that I wouldn’t do them at all. I procrastinated all the time and was constantly disappointed. I put my standards of perfection on other people and judged myself and them. I never felt good enough and I felt like I was always lacking.

I got easily frustrated with other people who didn’t “do things right.”

I had a boss many years ago say “Sometimes things are good enough.” I was horrified by this response and thought “Ya. Maybe for you." However, years later I admire this person. They were right. Sometimes things are good enough.

Isn’t it more important to do the thing than not do it? Is your personal life and time valuable enough that doing things to perfection and taking up your valuable time is too much?

I struggled with chronic pain, vertigo, and tinnitus for a long time, and things got really bad for me at one point. I really couldn’t do very much for a while and it showed me how to prioritize. What was the most important thing I needed to do that day and how could I do it in a way that was manageable for me when I only had so much energy? I had to start using time limits, realistic goals, and honesty. I also learned how to set myself up for success.

Starting to accept and be curious about myself was an important step. I certainly do have real human flaws, I am not perfect, I don’t desire to be and I never will be. Being a perfectionist was hard and sometimes it creeps in because I am human. Yet living a life that is no longer controlled by perfectionism is freeing. I can do things I never thought I could and I don’t have the pressure of having to do them perfectly, I can use each thing I do as a learning experience and improve my knowledge and skills over time. I don’t have to have everything figured out and perfect before I start.

The Link Between Perfectionism, Trauma and Painful Past Experiences

Perfectionism is prevalent in those that experienced childhood trauma. We may use it to keep ourselves from feeling vulnerable. Often, we believe that we can control outcomes and other people’s reactions and emotions toward us if we do things perfectly so that no one gets upset or angry with us. We may have been hurt or scared if we didn't meet certain expectations. Some of us may have had parents who wanted specific things for us and were constantly putting pressure on us. They may have been upset or disappointed when we were unable to meet certain ideas or expectations that they had.

As perfectionists we tend to look for a lot of reassurance, are we still good enough? Did I do a good enough job? Often our self-worth is correlated to different forms of success, jobs and tasks done to a specific level. There tends to be a lot of self-criticisms and frustration with ourselves and others.

Often perfectionists are high functioning and have achieved many great things in their lives but still do not see themselves in a positive light and many things are black and white in their view, if something is not a perfect success, then it is a failure .There can also be a lot of overwhelm and anxiety associated with tasks as it is incredibly exhausting having to do everything perfectly all the time and tasks may seem too large, leading to procrastination.

How can you break free from Perfectionism?


A big part of breaking free from perfectionism is being willing to be kind to yourself, practicing self-compassion and being a little uncomfortable. It means setting time limits on tasks and finishing them when they are good enough, maybe not … gasp …. perfect.

1. It doesn’t just mean setting time limits for tasks it means setting achievable goals. A formula that can be helpful with this is SMART goals :

Specific: Exactly what do I want to accomplish?

Measurable: How do I know this goal has been completed?

Achievable: Is this something I can achieve keeping the other guidelines in mind?

Realistic: Is this a realistic goal? Do I need to break it down into smaller steps?

Timely: When would I like to check back in with myself on this and be finished?

2. Practice self-compassion, allow for mistakes, make some on purpose, notice what happens when you do something to the level you have the energy.

Link to my YouTube video on non-judgment and self-compassion:

3. If we focus on meaning rather than perfection, we can also start to feel more accomplished. What does this task mean to me? Why am I doing it? Why is it important to me? When I have completed this how will I feel?

4. Get rid of bad influences that cause you stress- books, social media influencers, promotion of hustle culture… things that enhance the belief that you must be perfect are something you can cut out. Does this mean you will do everything from now on in a crappy manner and not care? No. You can still take pride in your job, hobbies, and things that matter to you.

5. Therapy can be helpful to explore the root of your perfectionism and the beliefs you hold around it. It can help you to process the painful past experiences that brought you to develop this coping strategy.

Link to my YouTube video about perfectionism:

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