How To Support Loved Ones Struggling With Perfectionism & Mental Health

This is what perfectionists really need when they're struggling in this pandemic.

How To Support Loved Ones Struggling With Perfectionism getty

I’ve been reflecting a lot on how things have been going for many of us, particularly those who've been struggling to manage stress or uncomfortable feelings during the current pandemic and shelter-in-place orders.

This is likely all of us at one time or another. More than ever, people need mental health support right now.

RELATED: 5 Ways To Ride Out Feeling Depressed & Isolated During The Stay-At-Home Order

I think this situation is highlighting the challenges society has with many things, and how we handle emotions is just one of them. It is, however, a big one. Especially right now, and especially for those of us who access our emotions more readily.


The biggest suggestion I have is this… 

Listen without trying to "fix" anything.

Be the person who cares to listen to the truth when you ask someone how they are. Be brave enough to just listen, rather than trying to "fix" it as a problem.

Especially now, the world feels lonely. Even those who are surrounded by people might feel unseen and unheard. Let’s hold off on any problem-solving for a while, as it places pressure on you. Instead, let yourself "just be." 

While helping people to experience their emotions can be a challenge, it's valuable beyond measure to feel connected, seen, heard, and understood. I am, personally, of the belief that this is what most people are truly craving while they're in a place of struggle.


Connect with others as equals. 

Unfortunately, when people offer suggestions too quickly, it takes you out of a place of equals connecting, and leads to feeling that emotions are to be avoided and need to be fixed.

It can create an expert-subordinate kind of dynamic that just doesn't feel like a connection. This feels more like you're in trouble for your emotions or shouldn’t have them.

For example, recently I was sharing about grief related to changes in my life due to the coronavirus pandemic. I've been preparing to create and launch an online course for many months and planned to roll it out this year.

But due to the current situation and our lack of childcare, it's just not realistic for me to continue working on this right now. I was sharing about how sad this is, and have heard a lot of suggestions and comments that sound like this…

  • "Maybe you can still..."
  • "Maybe you can create time for it somehow…"
  • "Maybe you need to focus on this, it’s really important…"
  • "But it’s such a good idea and you really want to do it…"

While these comments and suggestions were genuinely meant to be helpful and supportive — they were, after all, encouraging me toward my goals — they did not feel helpful or supportive, but felt like more pressure I didn’t need.

RELATED: 5 Strategies To Riding The Emotional Rollercoaster Of Uncertain Times

Don't put pressure on goals that can wait until better days.

As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve struggled with managing expectations of myself during this time of change and transition. It happened so quickly that I first resented the changes and held so tight to my previous goals.


This just led me to feel so much anxiety and pressure. Why? Because my previous expectations and goals are no longer realistic. I’m able to work maybe 60 percent of the time I was before. Comparably to other parents with young kids, that’s actually amazing. I’m lucky to do that.

However, I still have a business to run and a family to help support, emotionally and financially. That means some of my other goals are just going to have to be left on the backburner for a bit.

Accepting reality for what it is. 

This doesn’t mean I am giving up, not managing my time well, or that there is some solution for this that I couldn’t find (and need someone else’s help to find, for that matter) — it means I'm accepting reality on its terms.


If someone tells you something is just not realistic for them right now, believe them. Honor the pain and struggle they went through just to tell you that. Hold space for them to be sad about the conclusion they drew that is inevitable.

I know this is uncomfortable because a lot of us like to believe nice ideas about life like, “You can do anything.”

I’m here as a mama, a business owner, and a generally tired person saying, "Nope, I can’t do anything." It’s not worth the stress or burnout, so I am just going to do what is possible and enjoy the process as much as I can.

This has been a theme with many people recently, too. Particularly those characterized as "sensitive" need less problem-solving and more genuine support. You just need someone to listen and hear your pain and struggle, not someone to help you take it away.

There are two things people are looking for in emotional conversations:

  • To feel seen and understood
  • Connection with a person who cares

Unfortunately, when you mix emotion and a search for connection with problem-solving, all you end up with is disconnection. Feeling less understood.

And for me, I then have to renegotiate my new expectations with myself all over again. Because not only do I have perfectionistic tendencies that I work on daily, I also have people-pleasing tendencies.

This is a time of change for many, especially those who struggle already to have reasonable expectations of themselves.

For those of you who love a perfectionist, please be gentle in your support and suggestions. I know it does not feel like you are doing anything when you just listen and confirm that your life is indeed challenging, but this is everything when someone is emotional.

RELATED: The 9 Enneagram Types: How To Find Inner Peace Tailored To Your Personality


Erica Wollerman is a licensed clinical psychologist who has held a passion for helping people since beginning her career in psychology in 2006. If you would like to read more about her work, check out Thrive Therapy Studio.