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Why Being a Perfectionist Is So Bad for Your Health

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“If you are constantly striving for perfection, you’re likely going to have a lot of conflict in relationships,” Nielsen says, especially if your worries, fears, or procrastination are getting in the way of being an effective partner or compassionate friend.

If you have kids, they might observe your behavior and start holding themselves to similarly unreachable standards. “You’re putting that same pressure on them, and that’s not healthy either,” Nielsen says.

How to overcome perfectionismEven though you might feel like utter failure not giving 110% to a task or making a mistake, the reality is that perfectionism is really just a “made-up construct,” Cummins says. While that can be more than a little frustrating to hear (it’s not easy to change lifelong patterns!), there’s actually some good news: It means it’s possible to reframe the way you’re thinking to reduce the anxiety and rigid thinking that can make you miserable.

If you can leave perfectionism behind, it can open up a world of new possibilities that your hypercritical approach has been hiding from you. “If all you’re focused on is being the best employee or getting in ‘perfect’ physical shape, you’re missing out on a lot,” Nielsen says. “Most people don’t want to live in a constant state of being in a negative mindset.”

Positive self-talk is a good place to start.

When you notice you’re holding yourself to a certain standard, ask yourself if that expectation is realistic and attainable, Nielsen says. If not, try to start talking to yourself more positively instead. For example, if you’re tempted to work unpaid overtime to ace a presentation, instead say, “I accept that this is the best I can do with the time that I have, and I’m not going to get fired,” she says.

Here are a few other examples of positive self-talk you could try:

I’m doing the best I can, and I am doing well.All humans have flaws, and mine don’t define me.I’ve made mistakes in the past and I’m still here.All humans are going to make mistakes, and I can overcome them.Consider acceptance and commitment therapy.

It’s not easy to undo a lifetime of unattainable expectations on your own, so you may want to seek out expert help. Look for a mental health professional who is specifically trained in acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). (You can filter for ACT using Psychology Today’s Find a Therapist function.) This form of treatment helps people identify certain fears and shift their mindset to be more accepting of those thoughts, Cummins says.

It can be a huge help to have someone to reach out to if you find you are spending too much time at work, not sleeping well, or just constantly being hard on yourself, Nielsen says.

Make ‘No one is perfect’ your new mantra.

Feeling bad about yourself after seeing a former coworker’s engagement announcement on Instagram or hearing about a friend’s recent swoon-worthy trip to Thailand? Remember there’s so much you’re not seeing. “A lot of people only post on social media during happy times,” Nielsen says. “You don’t see many people ever posting about marriage counseling or that their kid is getting all D’s, so social media feeds into this desire to be perfect because it appears as if some people do have that. There’s that false sense of reality there.” Things may look perfect, but literally no one is. Say it out loud if you have to.

It can help to recognize your perfectionist tendencies for what they are, and then let them pass—they’re just tricks your mind is playing on you, anyway. “Be compassionate with yourself, understand that perfectionism isn’t something you do to yourself but instead you learn to become this way,” Cummins says. Giving yourself this grace can help you untangle your drive to be flawless and your sense of self over time and embrace the messy, complicated, imperfections of being human. “It’s really not possible to be perfect, there’s really no ‘perfect’ out there,” Nielsen says.


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