top of page
  • Writer's pictureEmily Shefer, AMFT

Perfection is Poison...

...and like many of you, I’m addicted to trying to achieve it

Perfectionism is never feeling satisfied, never feeling whole, and never feeling able to rest. Perfectionism is the internalization of the harshest critic (or conglomeration of critics) that you’ve ever encountered. Perfectionism is beating yourself up for something before anyone else has the chance to.

You don’t have to tell me that my hair is frizzy today, I'm already cursing my flyaways. You don’t have to tell me that this blogpost isn’t that well written, I’m already regretting posting it. You don’t have to laugh at the idea of me as a perfectionist, I already know that I’m far from perfect.

When nothing short of perfect is good enough for you, it means that you will never be good enough for you. The dust on the baseboards becomes evidence of your messiness, an A- proof of your incompetence, a texting typo becomes a deep embarrassment. At some point, you became so used to assessing your every move for something that you might be criticized for, that you became the critic.

Perfectionism is the illusion that if you could just be that little bit better, then you could avoid pain. Thus, perfectionism is just hyper-vigilance wearing an expertly crafted mask. You may not be peering around every corner checking for danger, but that's because you decided that you are the danger. You see yourself, in all of your natural human glory, as nothing more than an open display of all your mistakes, and you find this unacceptable. I wonder who taught you to see yourself this way? I wonder whose voice is really echoing in your head when you disapprove of your every action? I wonder what it would be like to stop?

They're going to judge me, they're going to laugh at me, they're going to punish me.

Depression and anxiety are inherent to perfectionism. Depression because you're always going to be disappointed, and anxiety because you can never stop working towards that ever further goal. Aiming for perfect denies yourself the joy of the journey or the ability to stop and rest. You have to keep going and going and going until it's good enough (nothing I do will ever be good enough).

Conversely, perfectionism can paralyze you with fear and zap all motivation from your body. You can become so preoccupied with needing to do something perfectly that it becomes too scary to even attempt. The potential for making a mistake is so agonizing that any task becomes imbued with the pressure of life or death. You'll never be able to reach your impossibly high standard, so you don't reach at all.

Perfectionism can look like the person burning themselves out in the hamster wheel or the person staring at the ceiling in bed. Both tortured and both missing out on the beautiful things in life.

So what do we do when we're addicted to perfect? Take a deep breath, and seek help. I already know what you're thinking, but that means admitting I'm not perfect! Therapy is a great space for perfectionists to experiment with their messiness with the confidential comfort of a nonjudgmental other. Therapy can help you to peel back the layers of anxiety to figure out when and why you developed this defense system. By ceding some control and discussing your inner world with a therapist you can begin to feel safe showing your true self to another person, and maybe trust that you are in fact worthy of care.

70 views0 comments


bottom of page