How to Beat Perfectionism Anxiety

If you are a self-confessed perfectionist and it is starting to ruin your life because of the impossibly high standards you keep setting yourself and the ensuing anxiety that causes – then read on for my top three tips on how to get this damaging behaviour under control. But firstly…
What causes perfectionism?

The root of perfectionism is believing your self-worth is based on your achievements

Perfectionism is often caused if some of these factors existed when you were growing up:
  • Rigid, high parental, educational and/or cultural expectations
  • Highly critical, shaming, or abusive parents or institutional figures
  • Excessive praise for achievements over effort or progress
  • Low self-esteem or feeling inadequate
  • Believing your self-worth is determined by your achievements (again over effort or progress)
  • Having highly successful, perfectionist parents as role models

Perfection becomes a way to gain acceptance, love, and praise

For others, perfectionism is self-imposed. Even if parents didn’t expect perfection, you may have set this standard for yourself as a way of proving that you are worthy, or ‘good enough’ to be accepted or loved. This blog is a follow-on to my previous one specifically on How to Feel Good Enough – as that belief is both a major cause AND symptom of perfectionism – one feeding the other in a never-ending loop. The good news being that of you want to break that cycle there are three key steps you can take to do so.


Us perfectionists can find it tough to distinguish between achievable ones and fantastical ones that will only lead to loads of angst and self-punishment when we don’t reach them (which we inevitably won’t because they were too extreme in the first place).

Going for way-out-there unachievable goals, or just too many at the same time, can also lead to pushing yourself beyond healthy sustainable levels. And actually, paralysis – we can’t actually get anything done – because of the amount of pressure we are putting onto ourselves – which inevitably leads to more beating-up of yourself.
This is because in doing so you are actually activating the fight-flight-freeze response in the limbic part of your brain (the old part of your brain concerned with getting you out of a dangerous situation).  
So by lowering your goal levels to ones that are actually achievable, without such high levels of stress or anxiety, you take yourself out of panic mode. And back to a state where your prefrontal cortex (the part of your brain behind your forehead that is concerned with strategic thinking and problem solving) is engaged.  You will actually get more done and do it far more successfully because your brain is actually functioning at a higher level.
Practice & celebrate failing


Failure.  A bit of a dirty word for a perfectionist I know. But failure is not a measure of your worth. Failure is actually an essential part of learning, growth and development.  One of the most effective ways of beating perfectionism is to learn a new skill or to do something that takes a lot of patience and trial and error – and yes getting things wrong along the way. Taking risks and stepping out of our comfort zones IS going to mean we make mistakes – get used to it – again (and yes I know I am repeating myself) it is an essential part of the learning and development process.
So every time you do mess up, you don’t hit the mark – celebrate it – it means you’re growing and learning.  

Accept who you ARE

Remember that if no one explicitly accepted, acknowledged or celebrated you just as you are when you were growing up, that you may have turned to achievement as the measure of your self-worth and being ‘good enough’.  Consequently, probably the best antidote for perfectionism (and the most challenging) is to be brave enough to just be your unpolished imperfect self – with all of your flaws, faults and limitations. 

By accepting who you really are, with some self-compassion, you actually can free yourself up to be your best version and to succeed. My request is you separate out these old beliefs – your ‘successes’ are not who you are. ‘Achievement’ is not a measure of your worth. You are perfectly flawed and perfectly wonderful all at the same time – as are we all.

Awareness + Action

If you seriously want to start shifting this old belief and the behaviour my request is you choose one of these three tips and practice with it consistently over the next two weeks. I would love to hear how it goes:

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