Perfectionism: Why your best never feels good enough

Attention to detail, getting things 'just right' and having all of your ducks in a row... does this sound like you? Chances are these qualities have been praised by your colleagues, friends and family as they continue to marvel at your ability to always seem to have everything in your life in order and 'spot on'. 

But behind this, you may be someone who is struggling to constantly maintain this level of perfectionism. Feeling as though you need to give everything 110% for it to feel even close to being good enough and a nagging pressure to always do better. 

You may feel like this 'perfect' person has started to form a part of who you are, it is your identity and challenging it could feel like you're being lazy or not doing your best. Your internal voice may sound like; "But if it's not perfect then I've failed, what will people think? I have to maintain a standard". 

Ultimately, you are experiencing exhaustion, burn out and frustration through putting so much into every tiny detail of your life, only to still feel as though it's not enough. 

"OK, Amy' I hear you say "that's all pretty spot on, but how do I change it?"

Understand where it comes from 

So often when we know the root cause of our issue we can understand it better, and as a result, work through it towards a better outcome.

Take a minute to think about where these feelings of not being enough are rooted. Did a parent or caregiver reinforce this message in your childhood? Did you have an experience in your past where you gave all of yourself to someone or something and it failed? If you're not sure perhaps consider counselling to explore this further. 

Show yourself some compassion

As an adult, it's pretty rare for it to be someone else who is setting these impossible standards for us. We don't have someone standing over us with a clipboard watching our every move and giving us a mark for everything we complete perfectly. Usually, we are the ones holding the clipboard!

So consider how you can show yourself some kindness and let yourself off the hook from time to time. One way to do this is to think of yourself as a friend, what would you expect from them? Apply these same conditions to yourself and put that clipboard down.

Change your relationship with failure

OK yes, I did say the 'F' word - failure. If the thought of failing sends you running for the hills, then perhaps there is an opportunity to adjust this response. 

Look back on your life at the times you have failed and consider what you learned from it. I can imagine that it was a lot, and although incredibly difficult, failure can be our best tool when it comes to growing as a person. We learn, we appreciate our resilience and we avoid making the same mistakes again. 

Practice makes... not perfect?

One idea is to start small when it comes to letting go of perfectionism. Why not practice letting go of the little things or giving 90% to something rather than your usual, unsustainable 110%?

The more you practice this approach, the easier it will feel and over time, the guilt or feelings of laziness will reduce. 

Find a balance

Letting go of perfectionism doesn't have to mean that everything suddenly falls apart. Working hard and trying your best are both admirable qualities and can set you up for success in every area of your life. But at some point, there is a line where working hard tips over into the stress-inducing, anxiety-provoking perfectionism and that's where it becomes unhealthy. 

When those stress levels begin to rise consider asking yourself these questions:

  • Am I trying to make this perfect?
  • Am I giving too much of my time, energy and focus onto something that doesn't need it?
  • How would I react if this failed?
  • Would 90% be enough for this task?

So, I really hope that some of these tips and thoughts help you. And look, I'll share a secret with you, I am a recovering perfectionist! All of the above, along with my own personal counselling, helped me to let go of my perfectionism and accept that my 'good enough' is good enough. I sincerely hope you experience the same too!

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Milton Keynes, MK10

Written by Amy Fokkens

Milton Keynes, MK10

Amy is a Therapeutic Counsellor and member of the BACP with a passion for helping those with low self esteem and anxiety. She has experience of working with the charity 'Mind' and a local refuge for women who have survived domestic abuse. Her practice is called 'Crown Counselling' and offers both in-person and online sessions based in Milton Keynes

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