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What is Perfectionism?

Updated: May 2

Do you struggle with feelings of not being “good enough” in spite of how hard you try or how much you seem to accomplish? Do you feel depleted trying to be everything to everyone? In this blog post, we will dive into what perfectionism is and begin reflecting on the possible impact it may be having on your life.

What is perfectionism?

Perfectionism has many faces, and affects people in various ways. It can mean putting in long hours at work, or showing up for people in your life whenever they need you. Or it may present as procrastination on an important task out of fear of being unable to do it perfectly.

Perfectionism often entails setting painfully high standards for ourselves, standards that we are often unaware of. Perfectionism is also fueled by high levels of self-criticism when we do not meet the standards we have set out for ourselves.

Perfectionistic thinking is often riddled with various “should” statements such as:

  • “Learning a new skill should come easily”

  • “I shouldn’t make mistakes”

  • “I should get along with people and always be agreeable”

  • “I should always look my best”

Have you ever felt feelings of shame when you’ve couldn’t do something? Perfectionists view mistakes as failures, or inadequacies. A perfectionist may be prone to seeing themselves as a failure rather than having struggled with something. All human beings make mistakes no matter how hard we might try to avoid them. To deny this is to deny our humanness.

How does perfectionism affect your life?

Perfectionism can impact many areas: academic performance, professional accomplishments, athletic abilities, physical appearance, our home environment, and how we navigate various relationships.

Fear of failure, and accompanying need to work harder or to fix our perceived flaws leaves us feeling stressed. The stress can take a toll on our bodies in the form of aches and pains, sleeping issues, muscle tension, and gastrointestinal problems.

The pursuit of perfection may also lead to spending long hours at work or school. This can result in having little energy left for engaging in hobbies, fun and play, relationships, and relaxation. Feeling the need to be there for everyone can also mean putting other people’s needs above our own. Lastly, care must be taken so that perfectionism does not intrude into your enjoyment of pleasurable activities.

Cultivating curiosity and self-compassion

As you begin to notice your thoughts and behaviours, it is important to be curious and self-compassionate as your move forward. We may feel pressured to immediately “fix” our perfectionism. Just as it took many years for your perfectionism to take on its current form, it will take time to change your relationship with imperfection, mistakes, and yourself. Please be patient with yourself as you carry on this brave journey.


Hannah Peirce

For further reading on the topic, I highly recommend the following book for those who are interested in this topic: "The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism” by Sharon Martin

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