How to Release Perfectionism in Middle Age

We all know that perfectionism is the enemy of good, and yet so many people struggle with the desire to overachieve, perform well, and have everything under control.

There’s nothing wrong with striving for excellence or having goals. Perfectionist behavior, however, makes it difficult to rest and enjoy the present moment. It also can impact relationships, self-esteem, and overall emotional well-being.

Steps to Overcoming Perfectionism

Perfectionists tend to be highly functional. When others look at them, they wouldn’t outwardly notice a problem. In fact, you may notice that people are jealous of your perfectionistic tendencies! They consider them as a sign of strong willpower and intelligence.

Overcoming perfectionism isn’t a straightforward process, especially if you’re used to constantly striving for greatness. But there are some helpful tips for changing your patterns and becoming more comfortable with making mistakes.

Consider Where Your Perfectionism Comes From

Perfectionism doesn’t emerge out of nowhere; it’s often deeply rooted in childhood. For example, maybe your parents pressured you to succeed in academics or athletics. Over time, you learned that you most felt loved when you accomplished something perhaps. Or, perhaps you struggled compared to other peers, and you wanted to prove your worth to others. Since then, maybe life has felt like this series of you needing to show critics how they were wrong about you.

Perfectionism can also be a trauma response. To cope with trauma, some people dive into school or work. It’s a virtuous distraction technique that’s often praised by others. Indeed, you may go on for many years, achieving at a high level, without really knowing your own feelings.

Finally, perfectionism is often an extension of anxiety. Focusing on your external achievements can provide a sense of control in a world that may feel chaotic. Of course, this control is a fallacy. No matter how much you succeed in life, these ‘wins’ can’t necessarily prevent life from unfolding in surprising ways.

Allow Yourself to Be a Beginner

Some people who identify with perfectionism only take on tasks where they know they will succeed. They either procrastinate, ignore, or deny needing to do anything else. This mindset, of course, has consequences for everyone!

One of the best ways to overcome perfectionism is to allow yourself to safely fail. This continuous exposure helps you realize that making mistakes isn’t nearly as catastrophic as it mentally feels. It also helps you become more accepting of your natural strengths and weaknesses. It’s impossible to be skilled at everything, but you can still enjoy the activities you haven’t fully mastered.

Pay Attention to Your Self-Talk

How do you talk to yourself when you make a mistake or don’t do something perfectly? What does your inner voice sound like on a typical day? If you’re like most people with perfectionistic thinking, you probably struggle with high levels of self-doubt and self-criticism.

The next time you notice yourself berating yourself, consider what self-compassion might look like. Would you hold a good friend to your own same unrealistic standards? If someone you loved made an error, how would you comfort them? And how can you better challenge the negative thoughts telling you that you don’t deserve basic needs like rest or relaxation?

Reassess Your Most Important Values

Someone with perfectionist tendencies may assume that every task carries the same weight. Therefore, they feel the need to complete every task perfectly.

These rigid thought patterns keep you striving for impossible standards. No matter how much you achieve, you continue raising the bar.

Take a moment to reevaluate what matters most to you in life. What relationships or priorities stand above all the rest? As much as possible, aim to focus on those needs, and try to practice letting go of all the anxiety you have about what might not be “perfect.”

Therapy for Releasing Perfectionism

Perfectionism isn’t necessarily good or bad. It’s fundamentally an adaptive trait intended to help you succeed. Many people move through life with perfectionist thinking because they want to feel in control and be accepted by others.

However, perfectionism can have an immense toll on your physical and mental health. You may be more likely to experience low self-esteem, stress, anxiety, depression, and relationship problems in your quest to overachieve.

Therapy can help shift perfectionistic thoughts into more realistic goals. It can also help you gain perspective and work through some of the underlying mental health issues causing or exacerbating perfectionism.

On a more existential level, true perfectionism doesn’t exist. It’s often a mirage of negative self-talk coupled with unrealistic goals. To truly achieve perfection (in a standard that feels reasonable to you) often means sacrificing so much of what makes life meaningful.

I am here to support you in building better self-esteem and self-care. Contact me today to get started.

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Austin, TX 78759
(512) 988-3363

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