Perfectionism ≠ Self-Improvement

Amy McTear
7 min readJan 22, 2018
Photo by Chris Barbalis

Perfection becomes an -ism and an inner voice when we believe:

“Perfectionism will make me a better person.”

“Perfectionism will force me to do better work”.

“Perfectionism will hide my flaws and keep me from accumulating new ones.”

“Perfectionism will make me seem more virtuous…”


Perfectionism is a liability.

Perfectionism keeps you from achieving your dreams.

Perfectionism dulls your engagement with the world.

Perfectionism limits your ability to contribute.

Perfectionism causes pain.

Perfectionism is a front for shame. It’s a way to hide it, even from yourself.

If you want to evolve into the most excellent version of yourself, do everything you can to release perfectionism from your life.

Perfectionism Hinders Achievement

“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life.

Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”

-Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Having high aspirations is fine. In fact, it’s great. But, having your sense of self contingent upon the achievement of your aspirations is ruinous.

Perfectionism is not truly a love of being meticulous. It is an escape from feelings of unworthiness.

If you set super high standards to bypass these feelings, your striving is rooted in lack and self-loathing.

You lack your own support and faith in yourself, but also integrity in your motive. This weakens you and your efforts.

When your desire to do well and be well is grounded in love of self and others, your highest potential has the ability to emerge.

Perfectionism is Procrastination

“Perfect is the enemy of done.” ― Catherine Carrigan

Perfectionism dupes you into endlessly polishing under the guise of admirably high standards. As a recovering perfectionist, I can warn you, be watchful when things aren’t getting done.

If something that I intended to take me days begins to take weeks or months or years, if I feel a resistance to publish, ship, show up, or extend myself, I know to scan for that trickster, perfectionism.

I’ve learned to sniff out when it’s not that what I am creating isn’t good enough yet, it’s that old fear that I will never be good enough.

Perfectionism deems anything short of perfect as unacceptable.

It will paralyze your actions, stall your projects, stop you from shipping goods and assure that your big dreams remain always just out of reach.

The healing, beauty, innovation or inspiration that you or your project could extend to the world, sadly, doesn’t get shared.

Perfectionism Prohibits Genius

“Perfect is not only the enemy of the good; it’s also the enemy of the realistic, the possible, and the fun.

The most evil trick about perfectionism, though, is that it disguises itself as a virtue.”

-Rebecca Solnit

Perfectionism leads to withholding, disappearing and not daring too greatly. To maintain your allegiance to perfection, you’re actions must be measured. You must control and restrain yourself, which stunts your personal growth.

At the same time, you have a desperation to succeed in order to feel okay about yourself. This split between holding in and reaching high creates anxiety. Anxiety impairs cognition and negatively affect your performance.

Genius cannot flourish under such conditions. Genius is born of risk. It happens when we are unedited in our engaging. It’s born of passion and wholehearted desire, but also messiness - experiment and failure, revisioning, revising and reaching again.

It happens when there is movement, breaking free and breaking through standards and norms, and in the absence of a demand for external validation.

Perfectionism Blocks Intimacy

“Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written;

or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy;

or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid?

It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.”

― Anne Lamott

Years ago, a therapist said to me, “Any less than all of you, and we all miss out.” She was keenly aware that I was lost in self-imposed, self-destructive and unreasonably high standards. Her statement made a life-saving crack in my well-constructed defense.

With perfectionism at the hull, you can only be partially you. Needless to say, this limits your ability to deeply and authentically connect with others.

When you cannot reveal yourself, your friends or intimate partner will sense you’re not there. They will often perceive it as a shortcoming. Yes, just the outcome you were trying so hard to avoid.

Perfectionism causes disassociation, self-obsession and constant editing in relationship. No matter how unconscious, you’re giving the majority of your life force to concealing your perceived flaws and defects, rather than truly opening to another person.

Trying to be more perfect so you can be lovable does not work.

It’s a waste of your life and it devalues others.

The other person is a means to an end, someone you’re subconsciously hoping will spare you from having to confront your own pain.

Why We Choose It

“In the place of the real self they invent a self that is designed to be “good” so as to get the parents’ attention.

Their “goodness” often goes under the guise of perfectionism. At the same time that these children are earning their value by being perfect, they are filled with the dread of being worthless.

The sense of self is lost and, instead, they become defective souls going through life trying to keep their worthlessness from being discovered by others.”

— Pia Melody, The Intimacy Factor

Perfectionism is a child’s way of coping with trauma. It is a symptom of damaged self-esteem. This can be caused by unreasonable demands having been placed on a child to be perfect. Or, it can be an effect of a child trying to get the parent’s attention when the parent was distracted, or incapable of meeting the child’s needs and the child suffered neglect. The child strategized that they would be rewarded and safe for being good.

Striving for goodness helps us feel that we have some measure of control over our lives. We believe that if we can just be good enough we can make up for the love, acceptance or attention that we needed and didn’t get. As we age, perfectionism becomes a false self that we use to motivate us and give our lives meaning.

But, the original wound of perfectionism is disconnection. Trying to become more perfect in order to heal wounds of disconnection doesn’t heal the wounds. Connection does.

When you’re perfectionism is triggered, know that the subconscious imprint of being unloved and abandoned is activated.

Instead of reaching for perfectionism to soothe your wounds (remember, it will block connection and intimacy) look for safe, authentic, unconditional love and connection with yourself and others.

This doesn’t mean you have to go and quickly find someone with whom to bond deeply and profoundly.

Not at all.


Have compassion for yourself.

Look around you.

Where do you see love already present?

Keep it simple.

Where can you see true, heartfelt connection and bonding in your environment?

Observe it and rest your mind on it. That’s enough.

This will help reshape your subconscious negative programming.

How to let it go Forever

“ Every day, the gap between rich and poor grows while the people of developed societies do nothing, because we are too busy worrying about looking good.

We’re distracted, but not because we’ve chosen to be.

Being distracted by our illusory inadequacy keeps us from changing the world.

And believe me, we all have the power to change the world. If we only make the time. If we only free some head space.”

Vironika Tugaleva

Stretching beyond ourselves and really taking a look at how our own pain and suffering plays into the bigger picture can be a powerful catalyst for letting go of our addictions.

There is so much need in the world. And there is a need that you are equipped to fill. There is something particular that you came to offer. This is your purpose.

As, Frederick Buechner says, “You’re calling is where you’re deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” Getting in touch with our most fundamental reason for being alive, has enormous power to shake us out of our personal trauma.


To deactivate perfectionism in your life, you must consciously register what perfectionism truly is and why you have gotten seduced by it. You must also take a long, hard look at how it is harming you and others.

I leave you with this checklist of …

15 Reasons To Give Up Perfectionism


  1. drains your life force
  2. squanders your energy
  3. leads to depression
  4. causes anxiety
  5. causes addiction
  6. paralyzes your projects
  7. edits your full expression
  8. interferes with your success
  9. imprisons your spirit
  10. undermines your creativity
  11. derails you from your true path and purpose
  12. wraps you up in activities that do not truly matter
  13. doesn’t help you heal
  14. blocks intimacy
  15. keeps you from giving your gifts and making your most vital contribution

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Amy McTear

Author, Coach, Founder of One True Voice, Certified Neuroptimal® Trainer. Helping you reprogram negative beliefs and align heart, mind & mission.