Letting Go of Perfectionism​

I'm writing to you today as a recovering perfectionist. 


I used to think being a perfectionist was a point of pride. In my mind, it meant that I wanted things just right and, therefore, I produced high-quality work and was a perfect friend, photographer, writer, tutor, and partner.


Except that I wasn't. I screw up…often. I lock my keys in my car, say the wrong thing and hurt someone's feelings, or forget to buy avocados when it’s guacamole night. It happens. 


The thing I started to realize when I began meditating and exploring personal growth is that maintaining exceedingly high and unrealistic expectations just isn’t sustainable or healthy. In fact, perfectionism is insidious and may even be dangerous.


2014 paper in the Review of General Psychology published by the American Psychological Association stated that chronic perfectionism can lead to hopelessness, anxiety, depression, and in some cases, suicide, because the pressure to keep up the facade of perfection is so great. 


Letting go of perfectionism creates more space for mistakes, teaches resiliency, and eventually establishes calm and peace, because the pressure to be perfect is greatly reduced.


If you suspect your child has perfectionist tendencies, I recommend helping them shift their thinking.


Here are three things that can loosen the grip of perfectionism.


Gordon Flett, lead author in the study mentioned above and an authority on the psychological impacts of perfectionism, says in this article that one way is to tell your children stories about your own mistakes. This will reinforce the idea that making mistakes is normal and part of life.


Another great way is to laugh. Did your son just drop a glass of milk on the carpet? Have a good laugh about it while the two of you mop it up. Model this behavior for your child as well. If you didn’t make it to the bank before they closed for the day, rather than launching into a litany of “Stupid, stupid, stupid!” laugh it off and say, “Oh well, I‘ll come back later.” It may take practice, but eventually your behavior will change.


The most important thing? Have compassion for yourself and your child. When you make mistakes, tell yourself it is okay. And do the same for your child. Let her know you still love and care about her, even when she forgets to clean the cat box or leaves her homework at school. This is a crucial step because it teaches your child that he is still lovable even when he makes mistakes. We could all use a reminder of that.  


Tags: perfectionism compassion anxiety depression