Ask A Therapist: How Do I Cope With Perfectionism and Develop Acceptance?

How to overcome perfectionistic tendencies, quiet the inner critic, and find acceptance in who you are.

One of the focus areas in my work as a psychotherapist in Toronto is with clients who struggle with perfectionism. It's a common issue that can have a significant impact on one's mental health and overall quality of life. It sets standards that are unattainable, and often comes with an intense inner critic that speaks up when those impossible standards are not met. Perfectionism can be a double-edged sword, driving individuals to strive for excellence in their personal and professional pursuits while also creating unrealistic expectations and an overwhelming fear of failure.

I often get asked by clients how they can overcome their perfectionistic tendencies, quiet their inner critic, and find acceptance in who they are. Here are some tips for coping with perfectionism and developing acceptance:

Recognize the negative impact of perfectionism: One of the first steps in coping with perfectionism is recognizing the negative impact it has on your life. Perfectionism can lead to anxiety, stress, and burnout, and it can also prevent you from taking risks and trying new things. Ask yourself - how does perfectionism impact you? By acknowledging the negative impact of perfectionism, you can start to take steps to address it.

Practice self-compassion: Self-compassion is a key component of overcoming perfectionism, especially with regards to overcoming the inner critic. It involves treating yourself with kindness and understanding, rather than harsh self-criticism. In therapy, we work on developing self-compassion through a range of different exercises.

Understand the roots: Oftentimes, perfectionistic tendencies are habits that have developed from core beliefs. For instance, if you encountered ridicule or criticism during childhood, it could have contributed to the formation of core beliefs like "I'm not good enough" or "who I am is not enough". These beliefs can permeate various aspects of life and significantly impact one's mindset, emotions, and actions. They may manifest as an incessant pursuit of flawlessness, a fear of failure, or an intense need for external validation.

By recognizing and acknowledging these underlying beliefs, individuals can begin to unravel the complex web of perfectionism and its effects on their well-being. In therapy, it is often useful to integrate body-based somatic therapy, IFS therapy, and EMDR therapy at this stage, to get to the roots and process the repressed emotions.

Challenge your perfectionistic thoughts: Perfectionistic thoughts can be pervasive and difficult to overcome, but they can be challenged. In therapy, we can work on identifying and challenging these thoughts, replacing them with more realistic and compassionate ones.

Set realistic goals: Perfectionism often involves setting unrealistic goals and expectations for oneself. By setting more realistic goals, you can reduce the pressure and stress you put on yourself.

Embrace imperfection: Learning to embrace imperfection is a key component of developing acceptance. Imperfection is a natural part of being human, and accepting it can lead to greater self-acceptance and overall well-being. This stage becomes easier to access once the roots have been understood and processed. By removing the blocks, acceptance becomes more attainable.

In therapy for perfectionism, we can work on developing these skills and strategies to help you cope with perfectionism and develop greater acceptance. If you're struggling with perfectionism, know that there is help available. Feel free to book a free consultation to learn more about how therapy can help you overcome perfectionism and live a more fulfilling life.