In my previous posts, I discussed the relationship between perfectionism and abuse and the problems with perfectionism. In this post, I’ll discuss how you can overcome perfectionism caused by abusive parents.
As mentioned in my other post, if you grew up with abusive parents, especially ones who were highly critical and unreasonably demanding, you likely struggle with perfectionism.
But as you probably notice, being a perfectionist comes with many downfalls. And it’s something you should overcome, not just to avoid all the issues, but to be able to be who you want to be and live your life.
Here are 16 different methods you can consider utilizing to overcome perfectionism.
Pause and ask yourself these questions
Whenever you start to do something and feel like you have to be perfect, ask yourself these questions.
- What am I trying to achieve?
- Who am I trying to please?
- Am I really looking for perfection? Or do I really just need praise, love, and approval?
- What’s the worst that can happen if it doesn’t turn out perfect?
Asking yourself these questions will hopefully help you reconsider your approach to something before you end up believing that whatever you’re doing has to be perfect.
Taking a pause to reflect on what you’re doing and why you’re doing it can help you process what’s happening. Hopefully, it can remind you that maybe the results aren’t that important. Perhaps, it’s the process and what you hope to get out of it.
Try to look for validation within
Perfectionism as a result of childhood abuse is oftentimes our attempt to please our parents. And when we’re older, it becomes our attempt to please other people. It became our main source to seek approval and validation.
Instead of perfection, try to aim for your best effort. Acknowledge that you did your best and try to accept that it is good enough, even if it’s not exactly “perfect” to your standards.
Rather than try to please people who don’t care that much in the end about how we do, why don’t we try to please ourselves and look for validation within ourselves instead?
I used to go back and update my posts, again and again, to make sure it’s what I’d consider perfect (I still do it sometimes). But they can’t be perfect (because that doesn’t exist), and that’s okay.
I’m learning to accept that it’s good enough and move on. That way, I won’t be wasting more time on what’s already done. And I will have more time to work on what needs to be done.
Remind yourself that mistakes and failures are a part of life
Being human means making mistakes and failures. Despite what you may believe, no human being is perfect. Maybe some people seem perfect. But I can guarantee you, they’re not.
Whatever goal you set out to achieve, remind yourself that mistakes and possible failures are expected from time to time. However, don’t confuse this with thinking you will mess up or that you will fail.
Simply remind yourself that you’re human and you’re bound to make mistakes. And that when you do, it’s okay. That’s how you learn and become better at what you do. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t good enough or that you’re a failure.
Your mistakes or failures do not define who you are. It does not dictate how worthy you are as a person.
Reminding yourself that you might make mistakes means being more mentally and physically prepared to deal with the mistake or failure if it occurs. So when setbacks or difficulties do come up, which they most likely would, you’re able to handle them.
Being able to do this also means you become more resilient. Because you acknowledge that you’re bound to make mistakes and fail at times, you can get back up in the face of challenges and try again.
Many perfectionists are frozen in the face of any setback or failure, which affects their performance even more. So when you’re able to prepare for and accept any mistakes and setbacks that arise, you’re actually more likely to excel at whatever you do.
Strive for progress instead
You made a little progress today compared to yesterday. It doesn’t matter how much. It doesn’t matter that it’s not completed yet.
Perfectionists typically believe that nothing they do is worthwhile unless it’s perfect. Rather than be proud of their progress, learning, or effort, they constantly compare their work to others or fixate on achieving flawlessness instead.
And even when they get their desired results, they may still feel unsatisfied.
So try to train yourself to feel satisfied with progress and strive for progress instead.
Besides, when you think about it, progress demonstrates more achievement than perfection. It means you are moving forward and getting things done instead of being stuck in the same dead-end trying to perfect something (that likely can’t be perfected).
Try to acknowledge the work you did do and celebrate it. Notice the beauty and perfection in that.
Learn the difference between reasonable and unreasonable
One way to overcome perfection is to know the difference between reasonable and unreasonable.
For instance, expecting a perfect score on every test, review, or competition is unreasonable. Although not technically impossible to achieve, it asks for a LOT of work, effort, energy, attention, and time. In the end, is it that different from say, striving for excellence instead?
Ask yourself why you feel the need to be the “best” or “perfect” at everything you do. What’s wrong with excellent or even good enough?
Remember, the best athletes, performers, students, or whoever else you strive to be has failed or made a mistake at one point or another in their lives. So it’s okay if you do, too. Besides, you are not them. You are you. Establish your own set of achievements rather than try to recreate someone else’s.
Make a realistic schedule
You likely have many things on your to-do list or agenda. This might cause you to be overworked and burnt out. And when you’re that overwhelmed with responsibilities, you end up neglecting those responsibilities.
So try to divide everything into reasonable, more manageable chunks. And get rid of anything unreasonable or straight-up impossible.
And finally, give yourself time to complete the tasks. Use that excellent all-or-nothing discipline you have for perfectionism to stick to working on one thing at a time instead.
Realize that when you give yourself an adequate and reasonable amount of time to complete something, you’ll do better than if you spread yourself too thin.
Make time for yourself
Striving for perfection means we’re constantly working towards achieving the “best”. And maybe we tell ourselves that we’ll rest when it’s all good and done.
But the problem is, it’ll never be done because it’ll never be perfect. Even if it’s perfect today, it might not be perfect tomorrow. So you end up losing time by constantly working to perfect your completed projects.
I know how hard it is to get out of that state. That’s why it’s important for you to physically make time for yourself. Because if you don’t make time, you won’t have time.
Add breaks to your schedule, even if they’re small. Make it your time.
Take the time to relax or have fun. Use it to take care of yourself. Try to steer clear of work or whatever it is you’re trying to perfect. Let this be your time to breathe and simply be.
Learn how to say “no”
You may feel the need to please everyone because that’s how you were raised. You likely always had to obey and satisfy your parents’ every whim to gain approval or avoid punishments. And that’s not your fault.
However, it is time to start learning how to say “no” to people. You don’t have to agree to everything. You don’t have to do everything.
Saying “no” doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or a bad friend. It just means you are human with your limits.
Stop negative self-talk
Many perfectionists are driven by their harsh inner critics.
While an inner critic can be useful as a source of motivation, oftentimes, it goes too far.
When you grew up with abusive parents, your negative self-talk likely didn’t come from you.
That inner voice telling you that what you’re doing isn’t “good enough” or isn’t “perfect” isn’t your voice; it’s your parents’.
One study found that self-compassion can help protect people with perfectionistic tendencies against depression.
The study explains that “the practice of self-kindness consistently reduces the strength of the relationship between maladaptive perfectionism and depression for both adolescents and adults.”
Research indicates that self-compassion is something that can be taught.
You are kind to others. So why aren’t you kind to yourself?
Discover your true values
When you’re a perfectionist, you likely want to strive in pretty much everything. But that’s impossible.
And this might come across as harsh, but while you’re busy trying to be perfect at everything, you’re probably going to end up being good at nothing.
So try to figure out what your values are and redirect your time and energy to that instead.
Once you discover what truly matters to you, you can focus on that instead. Not only will you be better at it, but you’ll also feel better.
However, it’s important not to just focus 100% of yourself on one thing. It’s important to also find a healthy balance for your and your loved ones’ sake.
Many perfectionists tend to keep focusing on what they have to do or what they messed up on. In a way, they kind of have the mindset that things aren’t good enough – whether it’s themselves or their lives.
Therefore, being able to practice gratitude can be a way to overcome perfectionism. Because no matter how imperfect something might seem, there is always something you can be grateful for about it.
Learn more in this post: How to Practice Gratitude: 15 Ways to Be More Grateful
It’s okay to ask for help
Part of being a perfectionist is wanting to do everything yourself. Maybe you feel like other people will be in the way or you might think that only you can do it perfectly. But that’s exactly how you end up stressed, overwhelmed, burnt out, and anxious.
Remember, it’s okay to ask for help. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. On the contrary, it’s a sign of strength.
Even if you want everything to be perfect, you can still have someone else help you with certain parts. Besides, you can fix it later to your liking. Just allow someone to help you with the heavy lifting first.
Dr. Paul Hewitt, the co-author of Perfectionism: A Relational Approach to Conceptualization, Assessment, and Treatment, believes that certain forms of psychotherapy can help people change their inner self-critic over time.
A professional can help you learn to deal with your need to be perfect, manage self-criticism, and embrace imperfections. They can also help you process your abuse and begin healing. Connect with a certified therapist and get 20% off your first month.
Don’t force yourself not to be perfect
This might sound contradictory. But one way to overcome perfectionism is to not fight it. Because when you fight it, you end up focusing on it too much. And it ends up being another thing you criticize and “hate” yourself for.
Accept that wanting to be perfect is a part of you. And that’s okay; you’re not alone in this.
Hopefully, being able to accept that you’re a perfectionist can help you feel a little more okay with being not-so-perfect. Besides, wanting to be perfect isn’t really so “perfect”. Also, there is beauty in imperfections. Perfect’s overrated and boring, anyway.
Recognize perfection in imperfection
When you realize that imperfection is everywhere, the need to be perfect might start to fade.
Also, try to recognize perfection in imperfection. Think about all the positive changes that’ll happen once you strive for perfection a little less and start to embrace imperfection a little more.
You’ll start noticing and enjoying the little things that you might’ve overlooked before. Perhaps you’ll start to feel a little less anxious and less of a need to change or fix things because you’ll start accepting things as they are.
Maybe you’ll also start to feel better about yourself because you can start recognizing the strengths you have and realize that your imperfections are pretty “perfect” as they are. It’s what makes you real and who you are.
Here are some additional resources on how to overcome perfectionism.
Sign up for a free trial of Kindle Unlimited to read some of these titles for free or at a discount. Or sign up for a free trial with Audible and claim an audiobook for free, which is yours to keep even when you cancel.
- The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown
- When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough: Strategies for Coping with Perfectionism by Martin M. Antony and Richard P. Swinson
- Present Perfect: A Mindfulness Approach to Letting Go of Perfectionism and the Need for Control by Pavel G. Somov
- Too Perfect: When Being in Control Gets Out of Control by Allan Mallinger and Jeannette Dewyze
- How to Be an Imperfectionist: The New Way to Self-Acceptance, Fearless Living, and Freedom from Perfectionism by Stephen Guise
- Overcoming Perfectionism: A self-help guide using scientifically supported cognitive behavioural techniques by Roz Shafran, Dr. Sarah Egan, and Tracey Wade
The key to being able to overcome perfectionism, I think, is to remind yourself that there is no such thing as perfect. It’s an easy concept to grasp but many people get lost in trying to achieve the most and be the best that they forget about it.
You don’t have to be the best. You don’t have to be perfect. Just be good enough for you. Live life how you want to, focusing on what you value.
Try to let go of the need to do everything perfectly. Try to enjoy the little things in life, because, in the end, those are the things that matter.
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Hi there, I’m Estee. Having grown up with a physically and emotionally abusive mother, I know how isolating, frustrating, and hopeless everything could feel – back then as a child and even now as an adult.
I am always trying to better learn, understand, and manage the effects of the abuse I experienced. And this healing journey I’m on inspired me to create Hopeful Panda, a place where others who faced childhood abuse can hopefully find support, resources, and motivation to begin healing.
A lot of time and effort is put into this blog – for me and for you. If you enjoy my content or find it helpful, please consider sharing and/or making a donation. Thank you!