Advice from Spill's therapists
The two types of perfectionismWe are all fallible humansPractice being 'less than perfect' outside of workRelated resources
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Managing being a perfectionist

Spill's qualified therapists answer real questions from employees navigating workplace relationships.

How can I stop being too much of a perfectionist? It makes me physically uncomfortable whenever work isn't 100% and it's causing resentment in my team as we have tight deadlines to hit.

Our first therapist suggests...

The two types of perfectionism

Part of letting go of perfectionism is realising that it stems from a fundamental source of self-doubt.

When you strive for perfection it is almost never achievable and so you are guaranteed an opportunity to be self-critical. When we demand so much from ourselves that we are bound to fail and end up berating ourselves its a good idea to work out why we are being so self-defeating.

There are two types of perfectionism and only one of them is good:

  1. The type where we demand everything be perfect and where we are unwilling to accept anything less. It chips away at our already fragile self-esteem and makes life miserable,  paradoxically making it harder for us to do good work.
  2. The type where we strive for perfection but fully accept we will not and need not achieve it. The aiming high is what pulls our performance up to a higer level and we focus on that success rather than bemoaning how far we have fallen short of the target.

The first type is rooted in a sense of not feeling “good enough” and the second is rooted in a certainty that we are.

It would be easy for me to suggest strategies you could try in order to let go of your perfectionism but without a fundamental understaidng of why you get in your own way it is unlikely that they would be of sustainable help.

My strong advice to you is  that do some therapy and help yourself to gain an understanding of where your perfectionism started. Then you can challenge it and change it. It will change your life.

Nobody needs to be a perfectionist because it is a tyranny that leads to an anxiety and misery that you do not need or deserve.

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Our second therapist suggests...

We are all fallible humans

Perfectionism is a behaviour often used to cover up the feelings of shame, i.e. not feeling good enough. We believe that if we do everything perfectly then we’ll never get ‘found out’. We all feel this in some environment or other, however, it needs addressing when it gets in the way. Low sense of self is an area that needs some gentle exploring and improving. I would encourage you to book a session with a Spill therapist or even talk this through with a good mate or a manager. You can change your relationship with shame, kick it out of the dark corner and, in turn, increase your feelings of self-worth.


I wonder if there’s also an element of control going on? If Covid times have taught us anything, it’s that the world is unpredictable and the unexpected happens…but that we cope and the world keeps turning. Living with uncertainty is part of the human experience so we need to befriend it. Fear can seduce us into thinking that everything unknown is unsafe so we must control the outcomes (make it known) in order to protect ourselves, however this is often untrue. We can learn to sit with uncertainty; to do things even if we don’t know how they’ll play out (be vulnerable). If we have a solid enough sense of self (which shame erodes), we know that, whatever happens, we will cope. You can’t make everything certain but you can reassure yourself you can cope with whatever outcome.

Finally, chuck some compassion in. Be kind to yourself. We are all fallible humans. We are all a work in progress and a masterpiece at the same time. Sometimes, things are hard and we muck up or can’t manage…and that’s OK. Ask for help when you need it - like more time or more support. But also manage your own demand for perfection and allow your work to be ‘good enough’ (it may be useful to have a chat with your manager about what this looks like and be clear of the expectations). Maybe test out how this feels in another area of your life to be able to bring it to work? And remember, perfect doesn’t exist.

A healthy mindset is an adaptable and compassionate one. It’s OK to muck up :)

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Our third therapist suggests...

Practice being 'less than perfect' outside of work

You have noticed you feel uncomfortable when work does not meet certain standards, and this can slow down your work meaning your team does not hit targets. You would like to reduce perfectionistic behaviours.

It may help to:

  • Acknowledge where perfectionism comes from. I often find that clients who are perfectionists had a parent with exacting standards or there was another person in their life such as a coach or teacher who pushed them very hard.
  • Be mindful of the disadvantages. You may find that your perfectionism does pay off in certain situations and changes are not required. Aim to be aware though of the situations where perfectionism is harmful. What are the negative consequences for you and others? Write them all down.
  • Make a commitment to change and what change could look like. You may want to involve your manager or a colleague in this so they can support you. You may also decide to use therapy as a support.
  • Make changes gradually so that they are not overwhelming. Rome was not built in a day, as they say.
  • Practice leaving things in a ‘good enough’ or less than perfect way. You may prefer to do this on less important tasks first to build confidence for example leaving the kitchen a mess overnight or making your bed, so the cover is neat but not completely symmetrical or flat.
  • Do things to help you to relax. Perfectionism is linked to anxiety and letting go of perfectionism is unlikely to feel natural and easy. Manage any anxiety by using strategies such as regular meditation, journaling, talking to friends/ family, exercise, or deep-breathing practices. The more you use relaxation strategies the better you will feel.

Perfectionism often masks difficulties with vulnerability. Practice sharing more of yourself with others including when you have made mistakes. Most people appreciate this as they know they are not perfect either.

Perfectionism may also be a diversion from life stresses which feel outside of your control. Aim to address life problems through problem-solving rather than trying to control your environment, your behaviour, or the behaviour of others. For example, if you are stressed because you want to have an opportunity at work, but it is never offered to you, talk to your manager about this and find out what you need to do to access the opportunity.

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Download our easy step-by-step exercise to build employee confidence

Perfectionism can be a sign of low self-esteem: this is a simple exercise that you can do with any colleague who seems to be struggling with their self esteem or confidence at work.