Top Myths about Perfectionism

Carolyn Rubenstein, PhD

Licensed psychologist and wellness consultant

As I sat down to write this post, I caught myself researching what others have written about perfectionism. (This is common for me, and for anyone else who grapples with perfectionism — seeking more information, feeling like we never know enough.) Thankfully, I caught myself before I went too far down the research path. Instead, I’m going into the database that is within me and trusting that I know more than enough to begin. 

Read on for 4 top myths about perfectionism:

Myth 1: Once a perfectionist, always a perfectionist. 

While we may have perfectionistic thoughts, we’re in control of what we do with these thoughts. We can choose to believe them or we can challenge them through our behavior. When I sat down to write this post, I challenged these myths by exiting out of my browser and beginning to write. While the urge is there to listen to these thoughts, our actions do not need to follow suit. 

Myth 2: Perfectionism is critical to my success. 

Oh how I wish I learned this myth was false sooner! Striving for perfect can feel like it has helped you to push harder and do more, but in reality it has only been increasing your anxiety and fear related to failure. Perfectionism tells you that nothing you do is “good enough” so you never stop working. You are driven by adrenaline. And while all the doing may have consumed you and your time, it also drained a lot of your mental resources. Without intense fear as our primary motivator, we are able to think more creatively and often get to where we want to go with far less doing (and more enjoyment). 

Myth 3: If I’m not striving for perfect, I’ll become lazy. 

This myth is so powerful, but even more powerful is when you prove it wrong for yourself. Often, when striving for perfection, we can become paralyzed by fear and procrastinate — which from the outside may look like laziness — but really your mind is working intensely on the perfect way forward (which doesn’t exist). Without the stakes of perfection measuring every move, it takes far less energy to take the first steps and make things happen. You’ll feel energized by your capability to get things done without obsessing about doing these things “perfectly.” Additional note: you may be thinking “if I’m not working 24/7, I’m in bed watching Netflix for hours and shutting off from the world”. This all-or-nothing mentality is due to perfectionism and the need to shut off after working so intensely for an extended period of time (fueled by adrenaline). This off-on mode of living will no longer be your way forward. 

Myth 4: If people knew that I’m flawed and imperfect, they wouldn’t like me. 

The basis of connection is vulnerability. It’s actually flaws and imperfections that make us likable and relatable. If you notice how I started this post, I started by pointing out how I continue to struggle with perfectionism — as a psychologist. I’m imperfect and truly believe that by owning my imperfections and struggles, I’ve gained deeper, more valuable connections at all levels, particularly with the most successful of individuals. Every person is flawed and to deny this is to disconnect, to create an illusion rather than open ourselves up. 

If these myths have felt true for as long as you can remember, you’re not alone. 

These myths operate so powerfully that it can be very difficult to recognize them. But once you recognize them, you’re in the control seat. You have the awareness you need to begin to challenge these myths through your actions. 

So the next time you notice one of these myths taking the lead, call it out and recognize what other ways you can move forward. Every time you take an action to challenge one of these myths, you decrease the influence of perfectionism. 

Caught in anxious patterns like people pleasing or perfectionism?