Letting Go of Perfectionism and How to Overcome Self-Criticism

Perfectionism is a common trait that many people struggle with. While it can be a positive force that motivates us to do our best, it can also be a source of stress and anxiety. When we strive for perfection, we often set impossibly high standards for ourselves, which can lead to feelings of failure and self-criticism. Overcoming perfectionism and self-criticism is not easy, but it is possible with some self-awareness and practice.

Understanding Perfectionism and Self-Criticism

Perfectionism is a mindset that is characterized by a relentless pursuit of excellence and a fear of failure. People who struggle with perfectionism often set high standards for themselves and are critical of themselves when they fall short of those standards. This can lead to feelings of anxiety, stress, and low self-esteem.

Self-criticism is a related trait that often goes hand in hand with perfectionism. When we are self-critical, we are hard on ourselves and judge ourselves harshly for our mistakes and shortcomings. This can create a negative cycle in which we are never satisfied with our performance, leading to even greater self-criticism.

Practicing Self-Compassion

One of the most effective ways to overcome self-criticism and perfectionism is to practice self-compassion. Self-compassion is the practice of treating yourself with kindness, understanding, and acceptance, even when you make mistakes or fall short of your expectations.

To practice self-compassion, start by acknowledging your emotions and feelings. Recognize that it is normal to feel anxious or disappointed when things don’t go as planned. Then, offer yourself words of encouragement and support, as you would to a close friend. For example, if you made a mistake at work, instead of criticizing yourself, try saying something like, “It’s okay to make mistakes. I’ll learn from this and do better next time.”

Setting Realistic Goals

Perfectionists often set unattainable goals for themselves, which can set them up for failure and self-criticism. To overcome this, it’s important to set realistic and achievable goals. Start by breaking down larger goals into smaller, more manageable steps. This can help to build momentum and create a sense of accomplishment.

When setting goals, it’s also important to focus on progress rather than perfection. Instead of striving for perfection, aim to make small improvements and celebrate your successes along the way. This can help to shift your mindset from self-criticism to self-improvement.

Celebrating Small Wins

Many perfectionists focus solely on the end result and overlook the small wins along the way. Celebrating small successes can help to shift the focus from perfectionism to progress. For example, if you’re working on a project, take time to acknowledge the progress you’ve made so far, even if it’s not perfect yet.

Celebrating small wins can also help to boost your confidence and motivation. When you see that you are making progress, you are more likely to continue working towards your goals.

Embracing Failure

Perfectionists often fear failure and avoid taking risks as a result. However, failure is an inevitable part of life and can be an opportunity for growth and learning. To overcome perfectionism, it’s important to embrace failure and view it as a chance to learn and improve. Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of failure, try to look for the lessons and insights that can be gained from it.

When you experience failure, take time to reflect on what went wrong and what you can do differently in the future. This can help to build resilience and increase your ability to bounce back from setbacks.

Challenging Negative Thoughts

Self-criticism often stems from negative thoughts and beliefs about ourselves. These thoughts can be automatic and unconscious, but they can have a powerful impact on our emotions and behavior. To overcome self-criticism, it’s important to challenge these negative thoughts and replace them with more positive and realistic ones.

Start by noticing when negative thoughts arise and questioning their validity. Ask yourself if there is evidence to support the thought, and if not, try to replace it with a more realistic and positive thought. For example, if you catch yourself thinking, “I’m not good enough,” challenge that thought by asking yourself, “What evidence do I have to support that belief?” You might realize that there is no real evidence to support that thought and that you are actually quite capable.

Seeking Support

Overcoming self-criticism and perfectionism can be a challenging process, and it’s important to seek support when needed. This can be from friends, family, or a mental health professional. Talking to someone who understands what you’re going through can be helpful in gaining perspective and finding new ways to cope.


  • Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Hazelden Publishing.
  • Neff, K. D. (2011). Self-compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself. HarperCollins.
  • Flett, G. L., Besser, A., Hewitt, P. L., & Davis, R. A. (2019). Dimensions of perfectionism, emotion regulation, and suicide ideation and attempts: A test and elaboration of the social disconnection model. Journal of Affective Disorders, 251, 97-104.
  • Hewitt, P. L., & Flett, G. L. (1991). Perfectionism in the self and social contexts: Conceptualization, assessment, and association with psychopathology. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60(3), 456-470.

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