3 Questions to Help You Overcome Perfectionism and Improve Your Mental Health

Hi, my name is Wendy and I’m a perfectionist. (This is when you say “Hi Wendy!”)

For the longest time I thought being a perfectionist was something to be proud of. I was a typical overachiever, straight A student.

Wendy de Jong from The Gratefulist on perfectionism and mental health.Even back when I was a kid I loved going to school. I was praised for my good grades. Being diligent and extremely detail-oriented, favoring quality over quantity, and working in a structured and organized manner; those were just some of my perfectionistic tendencies. I was convinced that these habits of perfectionism got me the good school results I got.

Up until I entered the workplace that is. What I found was that corporate culture appreciates speed over diligence, quantity over quality, and group work in project teams over solo work. Needless to say, I was miserable.

My perfectionism didn’t help me anymore. In fact, looking back, it had never helped me. During my college years, my fellow students only saw the perfectionist shield I had put up. It stopped me from making authentic connections and friendships. In reality, I was crumbling on the inside. I was insecure and thought that study would be the only thing I was good at. I felt like I didn’t fit in. I used study as a way of trying to control a small part of my life as I felt so out of control in the rest of it.

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At the same time, other things were happening in my life. I moved to a different city, where I don’t know a single soul. One of my closest friends moved to another country. Mixed in with the stress, unfulfillment, and disillusionment at work, I was also tired, lonely and depressed. I hit my lowest point.

You may have read before that studies* have shown that perfectionism is linked to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis. Upon reading that, you may have rolled your eyes. Just like I used to do. You may think: ‘Depression, anxiety, so what? My perfectionism is what helps me deal with all of that, right?’

Right? Wrong!

Let’s unravel your way of thinking. You probably think that perfectionism is like having a special superpower and if only you could put that superpower to use you’d be successful and noticed and appreciated. You think being a perfectionist is what’ll get you ahead at work or in your business. And more dangerously, you think that if you’re being the perfect wife/parent/friend/daughter/sister your spouse, family, and friends will love you more (or love you at all).

RELATED: Why perfectionism is such a dream killer

I know because I’ve been there. Until recently, this was my convoluted way of thinking.

This is what perfectionism is REALLY about. Perfectionism is fear-based behavior. It’s a thought pattern that goes like this: ‘If I do this perfectly or have a perfect life or look perfect, I am in control and therefore people can’t hurt me or see me for who I really am.’

Next time you think ‘I need this to be perfect!’, ask yourself why. Usually the answer is that you’re scared that people won’t like you, that it won’t be good enough, or that you fear failure, disapproval, making mistakes, and/or being criticized.

Perfectionism makes you operate from a place of lack. Something’s lacking in your life, your work, your relationships, and if only you can make things perfect you’ll feel complete. What’s worse is that you operate from the belief that something’s lacking in YOU. You think you’re not good enough, which makes you anxious, and only if things are perfect will you feel better.

Wendy de Jong on how to overcome perfectionism and improve mental health.But perfection is elusive. You never get there. Your belief that you’re not good enough is constantly reinforced because there’s always something that isn’t perfect and there’s always someone else who’s a little more perfect than you.

No wonder that depression is lurking. No wonder that perfectionism negatively affects your mental health.

So, what to do? The solution is simple, but not easy: let go of your perfectionism.

I know this sounds like a monumental task, but, don’t worry, I’ve broken it down for you into three questions:

  1. How is my perfectionism influenced by my environment, role models, and outside expectations?

  2. What are some inner beliefs and expectations that have lead me to being a perfectionist?

  3. What do I fear and/or what am I anxious about that leads to me being a perfectionist?

The key here is to understand your perfectionism. Educate yourself and truly absorb what perfectionism is and what effect it has on your life and your mental health. Read this blog post a few times. Talk to fellow (recovering) perfectionists. Do some soul searching and dig deep within yourself to figure out which perfectionistic tendencies and habits you recognize in yourself and how those tendencies and habits influence your behavior and your life.

RELATED: How to deal with high standards and unrealistic expectations as a perfectionist

I’m living proof that letting go of perfectionism is possible, even though it’s no easy feat. I want you to be mindful that truly letting go of perfectionism takes time. Perfectionism is a way of thinking and coping with uncertainty and anxiety that you’ve probably been doing all your life. That’s not going to go away in a week. Be compassionate and extend yourself some grace. I promise you, the journey from lacking and being not good enough to wholeness, from depression to mental strength, is so worth it.

I even took a break from a Scandal-binge on Netflix (gasp!) to create a FREE workbook to help you let go of your perfectionism.

* Sources:

Scott, J., 2007. ‘The effect of perfectionism and unconditional self-acceptance on depression’, Journal of Rational-Emotive and Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 25-1

Park, H., P.P. Heppner, and D. Lee, 2010. ‘Maladaptive coping and self-esteem as mediators between perfectionism and psychological distress’, Personality and Individual Differences, 48-4

  • Wow, very thought provoking questions. They really make you dig deep. Thanks for sharing this, lovely lady. Keep up the great work here and live unstoppable!

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  • Great thoughts Wendy. I’ve struggled with perfectionism my entire life and I fear my first two jobs I lost because of this. Working in retail during highschool I want able to straighten shelves fast enough (because I was being a perfectionist) and it lead to difficulties with my supervisors, ultimately I ended up quitting over it. Perfectionism is a serious issue for many.

  • These are great questions. I wouldn’t say that I am a perfectionist all the time, just in certain situations but these questions do get me thinking.
    Thank you for sharing!

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