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Turn Your Perfectionist Paralysis into Self-Acceptance


Written by Clinical Psychologist, Katie Dobinson 

“Nobody’s perfect” is a saying we often hear, or perhaps something we might say to a loved one when they’re expecting too much of themselves. Despite the knowledge that as humans we are all imperfect, and this is what makes us unique, many of us identify with being perfectionists. Being a perfectionist involves striving for perfection and setting unrelenting standards for ourselves. 

Whilst a desire to achieve goals and perform well can be helpful, the ongoing cycle of perfectionism can be harmful for our wellbeing. It can also trap us in a ‘perfectionist paralysis’, an immobilising fear that keeps us from starting or finishing tasks because of the desire to get everything perfect.  

 This month we’re going to dispel some myths about perfectionism, and investigate how Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) can help.  

What is perfectionism?  

Funnily enough, there is no ‘perfect’ definition for perfectionism, and one person’s experience of perfectionism can differ to another’s. However, perfectionism can be understood as the process whereby a person strives towards excessively high standards, often leading to low self-worth and fear of negative evaluation when these standards aren’t met. 

It’s important that we work towards goals and put in our best effort. However, when we are consistently putting pressure on ourselves to perform without making a mistake, and basing our sense of self-worth upon achievement and outcome only, this is perfectionistic behaviour and it can become problematic

Some common perfectionistic behaviours might include checking things over and over for mistakes, procrastinating because the output is never ‘good enough’, and/or never feeling worthy of taking time to rest. This pattern of self-critical thoughts and perfectionistic behaviours leads to negative self-talk that can damage our self-esteem.  

procrastination anxity perfectionism

The perfectionism-procrastination link 

Perfectionists are often believed to be people who never make mistakes, achieve highly in many areas of their chosen pursuits, and are highly motivated to always ‘get the job done’. However, did you know that perfectionistic tendencies are often linked to procrastination?  

Procrastination is when we put off or delay doing something that we need to get done. Many people get caught in the vicious cycle of procrastination due to unhelpful perfectionistic thoughts and behaviours.  

For example, if you have extremely high standards for an assignment that is due, you may procrastinate getting started because of perfectionistic beliefs such as “I have to get it right from the start”, “My work is never good enough”, or “I need to start the task when I’m feeling completely relaxed, without any anxiety”. 

These thoughts are not due to laziness, rather, due to ‘perfectionist paralysis’ where we avoid approaching a task due to fear or error. This is unhelpful, as we keep putting it off. In the end, it makes it harder to approach the task and our perfectionism and procrastination behaviours feed into one another.  














So, what can help? 

Perfectionism is a common and understandable mental process. However, setting unrelenting standards can lead to anxiety, and at times it can be a roadblock to progress. 

Thankfully, there are some very effective, accessible skills you can learn to help you challenges and shift unhelpful thoughts and behaviours that drive perfectionism.  

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based treatment for learning to reduce unhelpful levels of perfectionistic tendencies. By challenging thoughts about our unrealistic standards, and learning to reduce behaviours that maintain anxiety regarding performance and perfectionism, you can overcome these difficulties and practice more acceptance. 

The next time you notice perfectionistic thoughts, try speaking to yourself as you would talk to a good friend:

  • “You’re doing your best here.” 
  • “I know that you put a lot of effort into this.” 
  • “It’s ok to make mistakes – I’m human and I’m a lifelong learner.” 
  • “ I can accept my quirks without being judgemental.”


Break the cycle with self-acceptance 

Self-acceptance involves acknowledging your strengths, the things you might struggle with at times, and learning to appreciate and accept yourself for all of these parts. We are all human, and making mistakes or not being perfect is an inevitable part of life. In time, you can learn to appreciate the mistakes you make, as this is how we grow and develop. 

Try these tops tips for building more self-acceptance into your life: 

  • Embrace your uniqueness: What are your individual interests, or things about yourself that might be a little different to others? Consider how these are part of what makes you individual, and worthy of celebration.  
  • Focus on your strengths: What qualities do you appreciate about yourself? Is it your empathy for others? Your ability to problem-solve? Your commitment to learning? Your kindness to others? Remind yourself of these qualities, just as you would a close friend. 
  • Share your experience: If you make a mistake, or experience hardship, it can really help to talk to someone about it. They too have likely faced a similar challenge, or made mistakes too. Reach out for help and learn that you’re not alone 

The perfectionism-anxiety link

Many people with perfectionism often having difficulties with excessive worry. If you would like to learn practical strategies for managing persistent and hard-to-control worry that feeds into your perfectionism, take a look at our clinically-proven online treatment program for generalised anxiety.  

You can register right away and start feeling better today. 


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