The Limitations of Perfectionism

rhn-perfectionismThis blog post was written by Recovery Help Now’s, Leslie Kolb, MSW, ASW.

Have you ever felt held back by the notion of perfection? Do you hold yourself to impossible standards and then find yourself avoiding certain tasks or activities because you will not settle for anything less than perfect? Do you feel discouraged if you are only “okay” at something? If so, you might be experiencing the limitations of perfectionism.

A concrete example of feeling limited by perfectionism is the anxiety that many of us feel about our mathematic ability. How often have you heard yourself say, “Oh I’m just not good at math,” or “I’m just not a math person.” It might be true that your strengths lie elsewhere—perhaps in writing or musical endeavors—but that does not mean we are not capable at solving mathematical problems. It might mean that we have to work harder to understand the concepts, and we might make mistakes along the way, but we can do it. It’s simply a matter of how much we are willing to perceive ourselves failing before we give up.

For those of us who find that some abilities come easily, we might feel discouraged about other activities or tasks that might be more of a challenge. Because success has come so easily in certain areas, we might then experience that perception of failure more easily as well, namely when we do not succeed to the degree we had expected of ourselves. Using the example of mathematics above, if I were given a high level trigonometry problem to solve, I might get frustrated and give up without trying because I know I do not yet understand how to complete the problem. If I were given a reading comprehension quiz, I could easily pass it with flying colors, but trigonometry is an area in which I have less natural ability.

If my goal is to be able to solve the trigonometry problem, it is important that I put aside my perfectionistic expectations of myself and allow myself room to fail and learn from those failures. Failure can be an excellent learning tool, but our perception of failure can limit our ability to swallow our pride and try again. This can be a difficult task, but if we use mindfulness to breathe, re-center, and remind ourselves that perfection is an unrealistic expectation, we can try, try again until we achieve our goal.

This week, if you have a task or goal in mind that you’ve been wanting to tackle, try being mindful of the standards and expectations you’ve set for yourself. Remember that failing is an option—and it can be a very helpful option at that. Instead of letting that idea intimidate you, try reframing your thoughts and use that failure to learn and get closer to meeting your goal. The more room you allow yourself to try new things, the more comfortable you will become with learning from mistakes. You might be surprised with how far you can go if you can allow yourself to accept your failures as part of your learning process.


Elana Clark-Faler
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