Overcoming Perfectionism in Ontario: Strategies for Managing Distress

Perfectionism is a state of mind where we strive for everything to be perfect. While it can be normal and even rewarded in certain parts of our lives, such as our jobs or organizing events, it can also become a significant source of distress. A common theme in perfectionism is the need for control, but as psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor Viktor E. Frankl stated, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Perfectionism can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can provide a competitive edge by repeatedly analyzing what is within our power and making necessary adjustments to maintain a sense of control and responsibility. On the other hand, it can lead to hyper-responsibility, overthinking, and shame. Believing that everything can be controlled and made perfect can lead to a bottomless pit of stress and pressure that can result in burnout, depression, anxiety, addiction, and relational issues.

Core beliefs that often repeat in those experiencing perfectionism include:

  • “Everything must be perfect.”
  • “I cannot fail.”
  • “Failing in X will make me a failure.”
  • “I can and need to control everything.”
  • “I can and should mitigate all possible risks.”
  • “If I do not do A, B, C,…X, Y & Z, it will be my fault.”
  • “I should be perfect.”

If you recognize these beliefs in yourself, it may be a sign that your stress, pressure, and mental health issues are rooted in perfectionism. So, what can be done?

  1. Identify and challenge perfectionist beliefs.
  2. Intentionally pursue imperfection to increase distress tolerance and challenge perfectionistic beliefs.
  3. Meditate on the Serenity Prayer to more intentionally focus your attention and control.
  4. Seek the help of a psychotherapist to reflect deeper and challenge deeply-held beliefs.

One major block for those experiencing perfectionism is the belief that letting go of control and perfectionism will decrease the quality of work, productivity, and the “edge” one has. However, perfectionism can spread us thin and disproportionately focus our energy on controlling even the smallest things. Just like our brain goes through synaptic pruning in healthy development or a gardener prunes plants to enhance fruitful growth, letting go of control in certain areas of life helps us refocus our energy and become more intentional on what matters most.

Psychotherapy can be a great way to explore our distress and challenge our beliefs in a constructive manner. If you think or feel that perfectionism may be a significant source of your distress and you are a resident of Ontario, Canada, connect with us to begin your pruning journey toward managing and overcoming perfectionism!

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