Therapists often recognize that some clients will find healing once they “let go.” Letting go means different things for different clients. For some, it may mean letting go of an abusive relationship or an addiction. For others, it may mean letting go of past wounds and scars from childhood trauma. Yet, there is another subtle vice that can grip clients too. This vice that must be let go of effects their life but they may not realize just how much. It is the vice of perfectionism. Letting go of perfectionism can be just as challenging as letting go of other issues in life. The first step in helping clients let go of perfectionism is helping them see how detrimental it is.
Clients may have a false impression that being a perfectionist is ok because they are just doing things the very best possible. However, there is a slight distinction between doing your best and being a perfectionist. Perfectionists go beyond doing just their best. They are never quite satisfied with themselves or the job they’ve done. If they perceive they’ve failed in any area, then it creates inner pain and turmoil. They can’t let it go. Therapists should encourage clients to do their best but to let go of the results.
So, what happens when perfectionists do not achieve their goals? It can get quite uncomfortable for them and those around them. For one thing, they feel driven to achieve perfection, which leads to a lot of stress. On top of that, they engage in negative self-talk. For example, if they are attempting to complete a project, they deal with a continual inner critic that beats them down every step of the way telling them it’s not good enough or it will never be good enough. This unbearable load of negativity often leads perfectionists to procrastinate. The fear of failure paralyzes them so they put off doing things instead of just letting go. Of course, this always makes them feel worse because they don’t accomplish their goal. It becomes a vicious cycle of negative thoughts, procrastination, and perceived failure.
The reason letting go is so critical for the perfectionist is because perfectionism is all about control. The person wants to control how things turn out and make everything perfect. This can result in a toxic environment around the person. Co-workers, spouses, children, and friends may discover that it’s difficult having a smooth relationship with the perfectionist. Because they lack control in their own lives, they tend to exert it over others instead. In other words, since they can’t control their own imperfections, they attempt to control other people as a means to maintain some control in life. They also can be quite demanding in their expectations from others. This becomes more evident the higher up the ladder they are.
What can be done to begin the journey of healing for the perfectionist? Therapists can help lead perfectionists in finding the joy that comes with letting go of unrealistic expectations of themselves and others. As clients face their fear of failure and truly let go of themselves and their perfectionism, they will find peace. One of the wonderful things they and those around them discover is that while they become easier, less harsh and critical on themselves, they will also be more compassionate and generous towards others. When they let go of perfectionism, it allows them to feel free to make mistakes and to allow others that same privilege.
As therapists guide clients to let go of perfectionism, it brings relief to the client and their loved ones. For more information about therapy techniques, contact us today.