Struggling with Perfectionism is Adapted from a recent episode of Therapy Chat Podcast

On a recent episode of Therapy Chat, host Laura Reagan, LCSW-C revisited a previous conversation with frequent guest Sharon Martin, LCSW. Sharon is a therapist in San Jose, California who specializes in working with adults who have anxiety, codependent relational patterns, and perfectionism.

Sharon writes a blog for Psych Central called Happily Imperfect. Plus, she authored The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism as well as her second book, The Better Boundaries Workbook, which came out in 2021.

This conversation is focused on how struggling with perfectionism can show up in our lives in ways that we don’t always recognize.

We decided to replay this interview

This was recorded a few years ago, in December because struggling with perfectionism is such a prevalent theme around the end of year holidays. Therefore, every year from striving for the perfect holiday dinner with family to setting unrealistic expectations for our New Year’s resolutions.

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Keep reading to learn more about struggling with perfectionism, as well as a few strategies for how to deal with it. The interview begins with background about Sharon Martin and the population that she serves, as well as some of the other work she does.

Sharon explains that perfectionists often develop that trait as a coping mechanism for some type of childhood trauma.

She describes some of the common thoughts of perfectionistic who struggle with perfectionism

Common Characteristics You May Be Struggling with Perfectionism Can Include:

  • Feeling not good enough
  • Overworking
  • People pleasing
  • Worrying about what everyone else thinks
  • Feeling held back from what you want to do
  • Wanting to do a really good job
  • Needing to feel in control
  • Procrastination
  • Feeling afraid to do things you wish you could do

Laura mentioned that she typically works with perfectionistic adults who are:

  • High achievers with steady, long-term employment
  • Highly educated
  • Intelligent and outwardly successful
  • In stable, committed relationships

Sharon explained that in her experience, she tends to see two types of people who have perfectionistic traits. One group identifies as perfectionistic; the other group tends to not recognize those traits in themselves.

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Characteristics of Individuals Who Don’t See Themselves As Perfectionistic But Might Be:

  • Setting impossibly high standards for themselves and disappointed when they can’t meet them
  • Feeling deeply flawed
  • Expecting for other people leave no room for mistakes
  • Highly self-critical
  • Fearing other people’s judgment
  • Worrying about rejection and abandonment
  • Self worth is tied up with achievement
  • Not giving themselves credit for what they have accomplished
  • Thinking their work is not good enough
  • Struggling with allowing themselves to relax or take breaks

Both Laura and Sharon acknowledge that they understand from personal experience how perfectionism can get in the way of leading a happy life. Laura reflects on her own experience struggling with perfectionism.

Strategies to Overcome Perfectionism:

Sharon explains that some simple changes can help people who are struggling with perfectionism. Here are a few:

  • Realize that recovering from perfectionism is not an “All or Nothing“! You don’t have to be perfect at avoiding perfectionism.
  • It’s important to not let trying to “get it right” stand in the way of letting go of perfectionistic behavior.
  • Try to be mindful of the ways that struggling with perfectionism shows up in your life and turn toward yourself with kindness when it shows up.
  • Identify where in your life you are setting expectations that aren’t realistic to achieve, whether for yourself or others.
  • Recognize that overcoming perfectionism doesn’t mean you have to stop caring about doing things well or trying your best.
  • Notice whether there are areas of your life where doing less might allow you more time to do things that are more fulfilling or healthier for you.
  • Ask yourself what you might be missing out on because of your focus on doing things just right.
  • Look for situations that you tend to view through the perspective of Good/Bad or All or Nothing thinking. Examples:
    • Thoughts like, “I’m a bad mother”
    • Feeling like a failure
    • Thinking everyone hates you
    • Anytime you are thinking something is all one way, and you don’t see the more accurate perspective that there are many possibilities in any situation.
  • Slow down and ask yourself why this situation seems so important.
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Find a Trauma Therapist in Our Directory for More Support!

Finding a therapist who specializes in childhood trauma, particularly unmet attachment needs, codependency, perfectionism, and Childhood Emotional Neglect, can be helpful. Use Trauma Therapist Network’s Find A Trauma Therapist Directory to connect with the best therapist for you! To get started follow these steps:

  • Head to our find a therapist page.
  • Begin looking for a therapist in your area and select one that is a good fit.
  • Visit their website and learn about our therapists.
  • Get in touch and begin finding hope and healing!

*If you’re a trauma therapist who offers support for clients in need of help with trauma, our directory is for you. If you’re looking to be a resource for individuals needing help, learn about our directory. Then, visit our page to get set up as a therapist today!

Resources for If You’re Struggling with Perfectionism

To download a full transcript of Therapy Chat Episode 309, click here.

Whatever it is you’re struggling with, it’s key to step back and think about the big picture, according to Laura and Sharon.

Sharon’s workbook is a great road map to navigate that with – it offers questions and examples, as well as strategies that may help you unlearn perfectionist tendencies you are struggling with.

Check out Sharon’s book, The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism, here.

To listen to the full podcast episode, click here.

Check out Sharon’s book, The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism, here.

Therapy Chat Show Highlights on Struggling with Perfectionism

The final part of Laura and Sharon’s conversation is on struggling with perfectionism through the childhood trauma lens. We will follow up on that in a future blog post.

According to Sharon and Laura, perfectionism issues first start to manifest usually from a lacking sense of control early in our lives, likely due to some sort of early childhood trauma.

Perfectionist behavior can be a coping mechanism for dealing with that behavior. The idea that perfectionism isn’t black and white is also part of the more in-depth discussion in this section of the podcast.

To listen to the full podcast episode, click here.

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Post Details

Publish Date

February 6, 2022

About the Author

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C is an integrative trauma therapist and owner of a group practice, the Baltimore Annapolis Center for Integrative Healing. She is also the host of Therapy Chat and Trauma Chat podcasts and the founder of the Trauma Therapist Network, a website for learning information about trauma and finding resources and help for trauma.

Learn More