Idaho, Iowa, Des Moines
March 23, 2024

A Therapist’s 3 Biggest Tips for How to Stop Being a Perfectionist

Perfectionism can be both a blessing and a curse. Many high-functioning perfectionists gain and maintain privilege in careers, finances, and other high-status pathways because their perfectionism pushes them to. Perfectionism can get you high praise from others, plus external validation that you’re valuable and worthy.

However, perfectionism’s dark side can make your life a living hell. It leads to burnout, anxiety, and living your life in constant fear of failure.

Some of my therapy or coaching clients come to me feeling like it used to be helpful, but now it’s creating endless burnout at work or persistent strain in their relationships. 

Maybe you too have realized the perfectionism trade-off isn’t worth it. If you’re like these clients, you want to know how to stop being a perfectionist and find better balance in your life, work, and relationships. Here are my three biggest tips to help you get there.

How to Overcome Perfectionism

Tip 1: Find the root(s) of your perfectionism. 

The first thing to do when you’re trying to stop or alter any behavior is to seek the root of that behavior. Why? Because without knowing where a behavior comes from, you won’t really know how to address it.

Many of my clients are surprised to learn that they don’t understand where their perfectionism stems from. They think it’s because they have higher standards than everybody else, or because “it’s just the way things are supposed to be done.”

I’ve found that beneath these initial assumptions often lie deeper, truer perfectionism roots.

I’ve written about common reasons you might be a perfectionist before. Read through that article or try journaling to see what comes up for you. Or talk with a trusted friend or therapist and see if you notice any patterns. You may have multiple reasons or a combination of factors at the root of your perfectionism.

Is it a desire to avoid negative emotions? A lack of self-trust? Anxiety? Conditioned messages about what makes you a worthy human? The deeper you can get with this, the more accurate and specific your findings will be.

how to overcome perfectionism

Tip 2: Address the underlying anxiety.

Almost everyone who struggles with perfectionism deals with anxiety on some level. Anxiety causes distress, and perfectionism can become a coping mechanism to deal with that distress. You attempt to control outcomes and people in order to avoid nagging anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle. 

Anxiety can worsen perfectionism in all sorts of ways. It can cause procrastination, which leads to an increased sense of urgency and more anxiety. It can also keep you ruminating on what-ifs and going back over to check mistakes or things that could be improved. Anxiety can also convince you that everyone will hate you and your life will be ruined if you mess up or fail.

Until you address the anxiety, you’ll have a much harder time dispelling your perfectionism. Of course, the task of anxiety management is much easier said than done. I recommend working with a trusted therapist, coach, or other mental health practitioner who specializes in anxiety and can give you concrete tools and strategies – like cognitive reframes and acceptance skills – for symptom management. 

Tip 3: Practice fear-facing (in small doses).

A lot of growth happens when you recognize that a lot of your biggest fears – the ones that keep you up at night and reinforce all your least favorite behaviors – are actually, well, survivable. Manageable, even.

For someone with social anxiety, for example, the idea of public speaking can cause immense physical, mental, and physiological distress: sweating, nausea, racing thoughts, extreme fear, and so on. When that person avoids social situations at all costs, those fears get stronger. But when that person socializes in microdoses, purposely exposing themselves to that fear bit by bit, those responses tend to diminish over time. That’s the whole idea of exposure therapy.

These same principles apply to perfectionism. Say you’re terrified of showing up late to work because you fear judgment. Eventually, life will get in the way and you’ll be late. Spending all your time worried about being chastised or judged only increases your anxiety.

Obviously, showing up an hour late every day without offering an explanation or talking to your boss ahead of time is unprofessional and can result in disciplinary action taken against you. However, you can still face your fears in this scenario in small doses. Try something small, like logging onto a Zoom meeting (that you aren’t facilitating or have a major role in!) a minute or so late. Bonus tip: don’t apologize for it.

See what sensations come up in your body when you do this. It’s likely to feel very uncomfortable, especially if you’re the person who always shows up 10 minutes early. But you can also see that nothing really bad happened. The more to you can prove to yourself that the world doesn’t end when you mess up in small ways, the more you’ll trust yourself to handle it when you mess up in bigger ways. 

Consider Therapy or Coaching to Learn How to Overcome Perfectionism

Want support overcoming perfectionism? Consider therapy or a coaching program with me. My coaching and therapy programs, designed specifically for anxious overachievers, help you discover the roots of your perfectionism. Together, we’ll tackle the causes and help you face the underlying fears. 

I’m here to help you:

  • Acknowledge and address underlying anxiety
  • Challenge beliefs that are keeping you stuck 
  • Redirect and reframe cognitive errors such as black-and-white thinking
  • Practice facing your fears
  • Implement healthy stress management techniques
  • Find peace in showing up exactly as you are, even when it’s less than perfect

Learn more about my therapy services (including EMDR and talk therapy) if you’re located in Idaho or Iowa. For all other locations, check out my coaching services. My coaching program offers all the same expertise, tools, and guidance as therapy in a more direct and goal-oriented approach that you can benefit from anywhere. 

Reach out today to schedule a complimentary consultation and see if we’re a good fit. Let’s start building a better future together. 

Meet the author

Danielle Wayne

Danielle is an anxiety therapist and perfectionism coach. She specializes in helping busy millennials dial down their anxiety and ADHD, so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.

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