How To Stop Being A Perfectionist — Plus, 6 Downsides To Being One

Photo: Getty
perfectionist woman

Depending on who you ask, people may consider perfectionism to be a strength or a weakness. 

Throughout my time as an excellence-seeking perfectionist (meaning I have a high level of standards for myself and the people in my life), I have found that being perfect isn't a strength, it's a weakness.

It's important to have a reality check with yourself and learn how to stop being a perfectionist because it's not good for your mental health. 

Is perfectionism a mental disorder?

While perfectionism itself isn't recognized as a mental disorder, people who struggle with perfectionism oftentimes experience comorbid mental health issues.

If you're struggling with anxiety, depression, or eating disorders, perfectionist thoughts could make those illnesses worsen. 

The other kind of perfectionists — failure-avoiding — are concerned with their own desire to succeed for fear of not being good enough in the eyes of others.

Perfectionist tendencies can cause you to not be able to achieve your goals, practice negative self-talk, and have too high standards. 

RELATED: How To Tell If Your Anxious Feelings Are Actually An Anxiety Disorder

What is the root cause of perfectionism?

According to Life Coach and YourTango Expert Mitzi Bockmann, "perfectionism is about the need for control. We often can’t control our emotional health or our environment or the people around us but we can try to control how we do something." 

Don’t be afraid to ask yourself if your expectations are realistic. If not, figure out how you can change them to be something that is not so impossible. 

Despite taking a lot of work and thought control, there is a light at the end of perfectionism. Although it may take some time, you will one day be free from its downsides. 

However you identify with perfectionism, there are both pros and cons to being a perfectionist. It's time to relax and overcome perfectionism by learning healthy ways to be ok with not being perfect. 

If you’re like me, I’m sure you give 100% to the tasks you complete. And you probably have many aspirations that keep you on your toes. 

On the contrary, you might find yourself struggling with disappointment and high levels of anxiety. 

Since nothing can truly be perfect, the never-ending cycle, diminishing returns, and assumed failure can all bring negative emotions for perfectionists. 

It’s clear that the bad will always outweigh the good when talking about the pros (if any) and the cons of perfectionism.

6 Downsides Of Being A Perfectionist:

1. You fill your mind with negative self-talk.

Have you ever heard the expression “I am my own worst critic?” Well, nothing could be more true for someone who’s a perfectionist. 

Every little mistake will warrant some self-hatred that can’t be unheard. Sometimes without even noticing, I’m being mean to myself. 

Instead of building myself up after a failure, I tear myself down because there shouldn’t have been any failure in the first place. 

2. You have high levels of stress, burnout, and anxiety.

Since perfectionists are heavily concerned with getting everything perfect the first time around, we are constantly overworking ourselves. 

As a result, we will be stressed, experience burnout, and have high levels of anxiety. It takes a toll adhering to the desires of perfectionism. 

Studies also show that perfectionism is related to detrimental work and non-work outcomes, such as workaholism.

3. You're prone to relationship problems.

For many like myself, perfectionism doesn’t just affect us personally. As a matter of fact, it can have negative consequences on the relationships we hold. 

With such high standards for those around us, it can feel like we are never going to be satisfied. I have seen this in my almost two-year relationship with my boyfriend. 

More than once I have made him feel like he isn’t good enough — even without trying. My perfectionist antics get in the way of the love and support I’d like to be giving. 

4. Your perfectionism affects your physical health, too.

Although this might not affect everyone, a Swedish study discovered that 70% of patients with insomnia had higher scores than normal on perfectionism. 

There have also been links to perfectionists accounting for many of the people with heart disease, persistent headaches, and irritable bowel syndrome

The high levels of stress and lack of self-respect may begin to take a toll on physical health for those who struggle with perfectionism. 

5. It's hard for you to feel happy and fulfilled.

Perfectionists are very focused on the unattainable. While they may seem like realistic goals, the truth is, the search for perfection never ends. 

We may not ever get what we truly want because it probably doesn’t exist. That said, finding happiness is not an easy feat. 

Due to the inability to let go of what we can’t control, we might feel a gray cloud over our heads at all times. 

6. You experience imposter syndrome.

Distorted comparisons to people who are not on the same level cause another facet of disappointment for perfectionists. 

The International Journal of Behavioral Science found that 70% of people fear they will be exposed as a fraud despite the evidence that they have essential competencies. 

This is particularly common among perfectionists who feel that they continually fall short and suffer from immense self-doubt

RELATED: Are You A Workaholic? How To Stop Obsessing Over Your Job & Material Possessions

How do I stop being a perfectionist?

When you’re stuck in the cycle of perfectionism, it can feel like there’s no way out. But this is far from the truth!

1. Acknowledge that you wrestle with perfectionism.

The first step to solving any problem is recognizing that it exists. By doing this, you can understand that perhaps your way of thinking isn’t correct. 

It will be easier to work on the steps to follow if you have an understanding of what’s going on. A clear state of mind will allow you to make the changes necessary. 

In addition, the power of perfectionism will be less strong as you identify how and when it presents itself within your life. 

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Hey You! Want more of YourTango's best articles, seriously addictive horoscopes and top expert advice? Sign up to get our free daily newsletter!

2. Challenge your negative thoughts.

The best thing to do when negative emotions and self-talk surface, is to challenge them. Turn your way of thinking around and speak to yourself with a kinder approach. 

If you go off your diet and say to yourself “I’m so fat,” shut the negativity down as fast as it appears. Instead say, “This is part of the journey and tomorrow’s a new day.”

When we become better at not letting the negativity stick, we’ll be more likely to begin with positive thoughts and affirmations. 

3. Seek help if necessary.

Seeing a counselor to help guide me through the tricks and tendencies of my perfectionism was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. 

It’s not always easy to make change without help. So there’s no shame in finding someone who can take a little weight off your shoulders. 

Ultimately, this person will force you to see things you might have been avoiding and alter your perspective on things. 

4. Work on changing your expectations.

At the root of perfectionism, is the belief that what you’re looking for from yourself and others is absolute. However, this is not always the case. 

Don’t be afraid to ask yourself if your expectations are realistic. If not, figure out how you can change them to be something that is not so impossible.

Can perfectionism be cured?

According to Bockmann, perfectionism cannot be cured. However, it can be managed. 

"Awareness is the key," she explains. "If we are aware that we are striving for perfection in a way that isn’t healthy, or maybe even reasonable, we can work to manage our perfectionism so that it doesn’t control us."

Relational Wellness Coach and Life Coach Rachel Henderson warns, "If you consider yourself a perfectionist, the last thing you want to do is strive for a “cure.” That’s just another way of striving for perfection."

She explains that you shouldn't seek to eradicate your perfection, but instead just start small. "Gradually, you can redefine your standards for yourself. You can decide what “good enough” looks like and feels like to you.”

Seeing a counselor who helped guide me through the tricks and tendencies of my perfectionism was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. 

It’s not always easy to make change without help. There’s no shame in finding someone who can take a little bit of the weight off your shoulders. 

Ultimately, this person might help you to see things you might have been avoiding and alter your perspective on things. 

“If you can start opening to the idea that you’re worthy and valuable simply because you exist," says Henderson, "then you can start shifting your standards for yourself to something more sustainable.” 

RELATED: 5 Tips To Help You Develop A Solid Self-Care Plan

Isabella Pacinelli is a writer who covers relationship, self-love, spirituality, and entertainment topics.