When It’s Never Quite Good Enough: The Cost of Craving Perfection

Young business person with short hair and facial hair rubbing eyes with fingertips while resting in front of computerThose who define themselves as perfectionists often have trouble defining what perfection looks like. It is always just beyond their reach. It can be hard to define something you’ve never seen with your eyes or held in your hands. As they near their initial idea of what is perfect, they often revamp their criteria. Sometimes there’s fear in reaching that point (“If I get there, what’s left?”). They might wonder if reaching the pinnacle will meet their expectations. Some are proud of, and identify with, striving to do better.

But at what cost?

If you are a perfectionist, you are likely self-critical much of the time. You label results as “not okay” unless they are objectively and measurably flawless. You tend to move the finish line as you approach it, never allowing yourself to get there, because things can always be fine-tuned.

As a result, you find yourself searching for imperfections rather than achievements. Feelings of dissatisfaction are the norm. Happiness and joy escape you because you are always engaged in a struggle with yourself. You experience an abundance of disappointment, resentment, guilt, anger, and other negative emotions. The odds are slim you will regard something as perfect; the odds are high it will fall on the broad spectrum of “not good enough.”

Perfectionism hinders your relationship with yourself and with others. You’re not simply self-critical. You might find yourself passing judgment on those around you as well. You can be difficult to please, your negative mind-set coloring everything around you. Others may find you difficult to work for, challenging to collaborate with, or even hard to love because you find it tough to love yourself.

You have a “one way” mentality, meaning you can conceive of something being accomplished only in a certain way. This way of thinking reduces the capacity for flexibility, problem-solving, creativity, collaboration, and healthy risk-taking. The fear of making mistakes gets in the way of progress. Sometimes it leaves you feeling stuck, believing if you don’t proceed the “right” way, there’s no other way to go.

How can you learn to accept being less than perfect?

Few success stories are devoid of missteps or outright failure. It is often those moments that set people back on track with greater know-how and momentum than they had before, along with the freeing realization that a mistake isn’t going to destroy them.

Begin to enjoy the process rather than just the result. Savor the experience of learning to do better, which often happens after an error, big or small. Recognizing the value of mistakes lessens the fear around them; you can begin to appreciate them and what they have to offer. Few success stories are devoid of missteps or outright failure. It is often those moments that set people back on track with greater know-how and momentum than they had before, along with the freeing realization that a mistake isn’t going to destroy them.

Reaching a goal doesn’t have to be solely about arriving at a destination. Enjoying the scenery, noting progress along the way, and allowing the lessons you learn to sink in can make the experience more enriching and satisfying.

When you are less worried about perfection, you can be more open to feedback, enabling you to align yourself with others and their strengths. Think about who can you get to know while in the process of gaining support, suggestions, guidance, knowledge, or assistance. Imagine being able to reciprocate without worry of screwing up. You may be better able to expand your network if you’re not intent on doing things impeccably and on your own.

Focusing on progress rather than perfection is key. You can build in checkpoints so you have greater awareness of how far you’ve come. This promotes an ongoing sense of satisfaction. Documenting your progress is a great strategy for keeping your attention on the task at hand, rather than only on the goal.

Appreciate your imperfections. It’s partly those qualities that make you unique, interesting, and distinctly you. Think about how you can reframe them and turn them into something you can smile about. People frequently find it easier to connect with those who they perceive as less than perfect, thinking those who are otherwise are lofty, standoffish, or difficult to approach.

When you allow yourself to be less than perfect, you give yourself the space and freedom to breathe, be creative, take risks, and connect more deeply with others. Why not accept yourself as you are? If you do, others may follow.

If perfectionism is interfering with your day-to-day life and well-being, seek the support of a therapist.

“When we relate to ourselves with loving kindness, perfectionism naturally drops away.” —Sharon Salzberg

© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Harvey

    May 31st, 2018 at 11:08 AM

    This describes me to a T. Nothing is ever good enough for me. I feel like i walk around putting a critical eye on everything I see. I know it’s not healthy but I don’t know what to do about it. I feel like it’s just the way I am and always will be. Consequently I hate myself.

  • Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC

    May 31st, 2018 at 6:48 PM

    Harvey, why not challenge yourself to find something each day that pleases you, no matter how small? It can help you shift away from being on the lookout for things that dissatisfy.

  • Jane

    February 9th, 2021 at 10:48 AM

    Good read

  • Ana

    June 20th, 2021 at 12:12 PM

    I would try to find good things, but I am affraid that if I stop being perfectionistic I will end up in even bigger failure.

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