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  • How NOT to be more perfect

    There’s a saying that goes “Perfection is the enemy of the good.”

    That means that we can sabotage our good work by spending time trying to make it perfect, taking many hours and much effort, just to produce something that may be marginally better.  And what do we have to show for it?

    The result of trying to be perfect is to feel tired, afraid of not doing or being good enough, depressed, anxious, lonely, and unfulfilled. One loses friends and intimate partners.  One becomes unsatisfied and under-stimulated.  One can even lose one’s job.

    We learn perfectionism, we aren’t born that way.  In a chaotic or sometimes dangerous home environment, a child grows up avoiding criticism and punishment.  A child maintains a state of high alert, making efforts not to make mistakes.  To that child and their growing brain any little mistake is a cue of danger.

    As we get older, we are encouraged to strive for perfection in school, at work, and of course in our family of origin.  In return for this effort, we earn a type of belonging, which can help us co-regulate our body and mind.  It’s not real belonging, though.  We stay in a perpetuated cycle of approval-seeking, placating, rationalizing, self-criticism, and alienation.

    Disrupting the cycle of perfectionism

    Although we cannot change the formative experiences that shaped us, we can break the chains of maladaptive behavior that we carry with us every day.

    By therapeutically facing the times that we were made to feel unreasonable guilt and shame, we begin to heal.

    Breathe and relax

    The goal here is to reconnect our brain with our body.  Where in our body are we holding difficult feelings?  Once we find that place, we can just breathe into that area to soften those feelings.


    We then can remember or create an experience of comfort, acceptance, relaxation, and safety. Hypnotic work done with a clinical therapist can be extraordinarily helpful here.  Physically, we can give ourselves a gentle hug, shoulder massage, or lay our warm hands on the place of the difficult feelings.


    Finally, rather than trying to let go of the feelings completely, we can learn to allow those feelings to be in our body.  We can’t perfectly banish perfectionism, and it’s unnecessary to try for that.  We can just accept the existence of the feeling, and redirect our focus to self-acceptance in general.  We can learn to be mindful of our self in the moment and let that be enough.


    Because perfectionism is entrenched in many of us from our childhood, dealing with its unreasonable demands requires daily attention. Learn and practice mindfulness, meditation, yoga, t’ai chi, or other restful practices.  We can also make some mistakes on purpose! Maintain your perspective.  That certainly disrupts and challenges entrenched perfectionism.  

    Copyright © 2023 by Marilee Snyder



    National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine