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5 Steps to Overcome The Fear of Giving Up Perfectionism

Overcome Fear Giving Up Perfectionism

Giving up perfectionism can be a tough and challenging journey, but definitely not an impossible one. Perfectionism can drive a wedge between you and your happiness, so letting it go is one of the best things you can do for yourself.

The steps in this post are the basis for the treatment for the kind of depression I discuss in my book, Perfectly Hidden Depression – which at its most severe, can become deadly – as the pressure to never fail, to never falter becomes more and more intense. 

If you’re a perfectionist, it’s highly likely that you not only feel overwhelmed by the demands you place on yourself, you can also feel increasingly burdened by the ever-higher expectations that others develop for you.

Yet you can never.. ever… allow anyone to see your struggle.

Maybe you’re the teenage quarterback who has led your team to three state championships and now you’re being carefully watched by professional scouts. Or the young mother who’s been promoted at your job for your outstanding contributions, but you stay up late into the night to get that very work done. Perhaps you’re the attorney who has an almost perfect trial record, and now you’re attracting more and more difficult, time-consuming cases.

The pressure is intense. Yet not meeting these high expectations is something you cannot imagine – or you even fear. 

Years ago, my at-the-time very perfectionistic self told a therapist, “If I don’t keep my thumb at my back, pushing myself every minute, I”m afraid that I’ll become a slug.” 

Related: 17 Signs You Are An Overachiever And How To Deal

Your belief is it’s the pressure that brings with it success. You don’t believe that innately you have what it takes. And you fear that others will see your vulnerabilities.

Fear is what keeps perfectionism alive. Fear of not being on top, of looking like you don’t have it all together, of making mistakes that will be noticed, of rejection or judgment. Fear that you won’t be as good as you were last time. And the list goes on.

5 Steps To Take If You’re Caught Up In A Perfectionist Spiral 

1. Become conscious or aware that your perfectionism is a problem.  

You likely created this perfect-looking persona to emotionally survive and perhaps even thrive as a child. No matter what the reason, it became the way you shielded and protected yourself. Giving it up or tweaking it a bit can lead to even greater fear, but remember that staying the way you are can feel intensely lonely. 

Here’s an example to illustrate the difference. You’re holding a pen in your hand, gently but firmly. There’s little chance that it will fall. But what if you grasp it as hard as you can? You’re still holding the pencil but in a way that will only lead to exhaustion.

giving up perfectionism
5 Steps to Overcome The Fear of Giving Up Perfectionism

2. Commit to change at a reasonable pace. 

Your fear of change can become so significant that you’ll put up barriers, justifying your frenzied life by saying, “It won’t get done if I don’t do it.” Or, “I’m the breadwinner in the family. We can’t get along on less money.” Or you’ll set perfectionistic standards for change, and sabotage yourself before you even get started. “I’ll lose ten pounds in two weeks.” Or, “I’ll give up all my responsibilities.”

Way too much, way too soon. Change needs to be gradual and gentle. 

Related: 10 Signs You’re Perfectionistic and How To Overcome

3. Confront the rigid rules that you’re still following — that no longer truly help. 

We all learned rules to follow when we were young. You could probably sit down and write them out. “Don’t chew with your mouth full.” Or, “Always be kind.”

But are there rules that are keeping your more authentic self from being revealed? “I can never show anger.” Or, “I can’t quit until the job’s done.” Look for rules that are the “shoulds” and “oughts” in your life. 

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Dr. Margaret R Rutherford

Dr. Margaret Rutherford, a clinical psychologist, has practiced for twenty-six years in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Earning the 2009 Arkansas Private Practitioner of the Year award for her volunteer work at a local free health clinic, she began blogging and podcasting in 2012 to destigmatize mental illness and educate the public about therapy and treatment. With her compassionate and common-sense style, her work can be found at https://DrMargaretRutherford.com, as well as HuffPost, Psych Central, Psychology Today, The Mighty, The Gottman Blog and others. She hosts a weekly podcast, The SelfWork Podcast with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. And her new book, Perfectly Hidden Depression: How to Break Free from the Perfectionism that Masks Your Depression, is published by New Harbinger and available at Amazon, Barnes, and Noble or your local bookstore.View Author posts