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Breaking Free from Perfectionism: 20 Strategies For Embracing Imperfection and Growth

Written by Samantha Carter

Perfectionism is the impossible and relentless pursuit of flawlessness. It can seem like a commendable trait on the surface. However, for many, it becomes a source of stress, anxiety, and a barrier to personal growth. By embracing imperfection, you can alleviate the pressure to attain unrealistic goals and foster a healthier, more fulfilling life. That’s why we’ve put together 20 strategies to help you break free from perfectionism and embrace your imperfectly perfect self.

Possible Causes of Perfectionism

Before we dive into strategies to overcome perfectionism, it can be helpful to understand the underlying causes so you can better address them on your journey of healing. Perfectionism can arise from a complex interplay of psychological, environmental, and social factors. Below are some of the key contributors to the development of perfectionist tendencies.

Early Childhood Experiences

Children raised in environments where parents have excessively high expectations may internalize these standards. When love and approval are contingent upon achievement, children learn to equate self-worth with success and flawlessness.

Additionally, consistent criticism or lack of positive reinforcement from parents can lead to children striving for perfection as a means of gaining approval and avoiding negative feedback.

Finally, if a close adult embodies the traits of perfectionism, it can cause the same issue with a child. Children often emulate the behaviors of their parents or significant adults. Therefore, how adults set an example matters.

Personality Traits

While being conscientious is generally a positive trait, those who score high in this personality dimension might be more prone to perfectionism due to their desire for order, reliability, and diligence. Also, individuals with high levels of neuroticism may experience heightened anxiety and fear of failure, which can contribute to perfectionist behaviors as a coping mechanism.

Cultural and Societal Influences

Societies that emphasize achievement, success, and competition can foster perfectionist attitudes. Cultural norms that equate self-worth with productivity and accomplishment can pressure individuals to strive for unrealistic standards.

Furthermore, constant exposure to idealized images and success stories in the media can create unrealistic expectations. Social media, in particular, often showcases curated, seemingly perfect lives, leading to comparisons and feelings of inadequacy.

Educational Environment

Schools that prioritize grades and academic success can contribute to perfectionism. Students may feel compelled to meet high academic standards and fear the repercussions of failure. Competitive academic environments can also intensify perfectionist tendencies as students compare their performance to that of their peers, striving to outdo others to feel competent and valued.

Professional Environment

High-pressure work environments with strict performance standards can cultivate and even encourage perfectionism. Employees may fear that any mistake could jeopardize their job security or career advancement. Frequent evaluations and performance reviews heighten perfectionist behaviors, especially if feedback is predominantly critical or focused on areas of improvement rather than strengths.

Fear of Failure

Perfectionists often develop an intense fear of failure. This fear can stem from past experiences where failure led to negative consequences, such as punishment, criticism, or loss of opportunities.

Additionally, individuals with perfectionist tendencies may engage in catastrophic thinking, where they believe that even minor mistakes will lead to significant, irreparable consequences.

Desire for Control

Perfectionism can be a coping mechanism for individuals who feel a need to control their environment and outcomes to keep themselves safe. Striving for perfection gives them a sense of security and reduces uncertainty. As a result, perfectionists may struggle with delegating tasks because they fear others will not meet their high standards. This need for control can lead to burnout and increased stress.

Low Self-Esteem

For many perfectionists, self-esteem is closely tied to their accomplishments. They believe that they must constantly achieve and succeed to be worthy of love and respect. Low self-esteem can make individuals more sensitive to judgment and criticism from others. To avoid perceived judgment, they strive for perfection to present themselves in the best possible light.

Psychological Disorders

Perfectionism is often associated with various anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and social anxiety disorder. The anxiety fuels the need for perfection as a way to alleviate distress.

Additionally, perfectionism and depression can be interlinked. The constant pressure to achieve perfection can lead to feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness, contributing to depressive symptoms.

1. Acknowledge Your Perfectionism

The first step in overcoming perfectionism is recognizing its presence in your life. Reflect on how perfectionist tendencies manifest in your thoughts, behaviors, and interactions. Awareness is the key to initiating change. Consider journaling about the ways in which perfectionism shows up in your life and/or talking about it with others.

2. Understand the Root Causes

Perfectionism often stems from deeper issues such as fear of failure, desire for approval, or past experiences. Exploring these root causes, especially with the help of a therapist, can provide insight and facilitate healing. Because everyone’s root cause is unique to them, it’s important to take the time for this self-discovery.

3. Set Realistic Goals

Perfectionists often set unattainably high standards. Learn to set realistic, achievable goals that allow for flexibility and growth. Break larger tasks into smaller, manageable steps to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Also, consider learning about and implementing SMART goals so you can track your progress and adjust accordingly.

4. Practice Self-Compassion

Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer a friend. Acknowledge your efforts and progress rather than focusing solely on flaws and mistakes. It’s important to remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day and overcoming lifelong coping patterns is going to take some time too.

5. Embrace Mistakes as Learning Opportunities

Shift your perspective on mistakes. Instead of viewing them as failures, see them as valuable opportunities for learning and growth. Each misstep brings you closer to improvement.

6. Focus on the Process, Not the Outcome

Perfectionism is often outcome-oriented. Redirect your focus to the process itself. Enjoy the journey, celebrate small victories, and appreciate the effort you put in.

7. Limit Comparisons

Constantly comparing yourself to others can fuel perfectionist tendencies. Remember that everyone’s path is unique. Focus on your own progress and achievements rather than measuring yourself against others.

8. Redefine Success

Redefine what success means to you. Instead of tying success to flawless outcomes, consider it as progress, effort, and personal growth. Celebrate your successes, no matter how small. Perhaps that looks like giving yourself a pat on the back for taking a much needed day off for rest.

9. Set Boundaries

Perfectionists often take on too much to meet their high standards. Learn to set boundaries and say no when necessary. Prioritize tasks that align with your values and let go of those that do not. Also, try to remain flexible and adjust your plans as needed.

10. Delegate Tasks

You don’t have to do everything yourself. Delegating tasks can alleviate the pressure to be perfect in all areas. Trust others to contribute and collaborate effectively. It may feel like a bit of a leap of faith at first, but give things time before passing judgment.

11. Cultivate Mindfulness

Mindfulness practices, such as meditation and deep breathing, can help you stay present and reduce anxiety. By focusing on the here and now, you can let go of perfectionist worries about the past and future.

12. Challenge Negative Self-Talk

Perfectionists often engage in harsh self-criticism. Identify and challenge these negative thoughts. Replace them with positive affirmations and realistic perspectives instead.

13. Celebrate Imperfection

Embrace the beauty of imperfection. Celebrate the quirks and flaws that make you unique and surround yourself with people who appreciate authenticity over perfection.

14. Seek Support

Don’t hesitate to seek support from friends, family, or mental health professionals. Talking about your struggles with perfectionism can provide relief and valuable insights.

15. Engage in Creative Activities

Creative pursuits like painting, writing, or playing music can help you break free from perfectionist tendencies. These activities encourage experimentation and expression without the pressure to be perfect.

16. Take Breaks

Perfectionists often work tirelessly to meet their high standards. Schedule regular breaks to rest and recharge. Stepping away from tasks can provide clarity and reduce stress.

17. Reflect on Your Achievements

Regularly take time to reflect on and celebrate your achievements. Acknowledge your hard work and the progress you’ve made, rather than fixating on what still needs to be done. There will always be more work to do, but if you don’t learn to appreciate where you’re at, you’ll never be able to experience true happiness and joy.

18. Practice Gratitude

Gratitude practices can shift your focus from what’s lacking to what’s abundant in your life. Keep a gratitude journal to remind yourself of the positive things in your life. It can be as simple as being grateful for getting out of bed in the morning.

19. Accept Help

Perfectionists often struggle to accept help, fearing it might indicate weakness or failure. Learn to accept assistance graciously. Collaboration can enhance your work and provide fresh perspectives.

20. Commit to Ongoing Growth

Embracing imperfection is an ongoing journey. Therefore, it’s important to commit to continuous self-improvement and personal growth by showing up consistency to do the work. Recognize that perfection is unattainable, but progress and learning are always within reach.

Goodbye Perfectionism, Hello Humanity

Breaking free from perfectionism is not an overnight process. It requires patience, self-compassion, and persistent effort. By adopting these strategies, you can start to learn to embrace imperfection, reduce stress, and cultivate a more fulfilling life. However, it may take some help to get there.

Seeking professional support, such as psychotherapy or counseling through All Points North, can be incredibly beneficial in this journey. Our therapists can help individuals explore the root causes of their perfectionism, develop healthier coping mechanisms, and cultivate a more compassionate and realistic self-view.

If perfectionism is impacting your mental health and overall well-being, don’t hesitate to reach out for support. We offer valuable holistic tools and insights to help you embrace imperfection and foster personal growth. The best part about releasing perfectionism is living a life of freedom, acceptance, and happiness that waits on the other side of healing.

Give us a call at 855.232.8217 to explore our traditional and alternative mental health treatment services that work with insurance. Our team is ready to help you overcome perfectionism so you can live a full, happy life.


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