Perfectionism – What it is and how to fix it

by Tony Schirtzinger


Have you noticed that someone who says they have a problem with perfectionism usually says it with a sheepish smile on their face?

Have you also noticed that their smile is a strangely complicated one which includes both pride and shame?

The pride comes from believing that they are doing what they are supposed to do. (Wrong!)

The shame comes from thinking of themselves as failures. (Wrong again!)


Perfectionism comes from childhood.

It comes from trying to please a parent who was psychologically unable to be pleased.

It starts to change when we realize that this was their problem, not ours.


There is this wonderful thing we can feel called relief.

It comes to us as soon as we feel “finished” or we know something is “good enough”.

(The best example I can give of relief is that wonderful feeling of completeness we all feel when we’ve just finished urinating. That’s relief!)


Perfectionists rush right past their own feeling of relief!

They do this because they believe that their own relief doesn’t matter, and that they should instead concentrate on whether someone else is happy with what they’ve done.

Become excellent at identifying this feeling of relief.

Notice that it comes long before any belief in perfection.

When relief comes, stop whatever you are doing and realize that you are finished.

Always take lots of time to enjoy it.


Perfectionism is caused by adults who teach children that what they do is more important than who they are.

It doesn’t help to blame the adults, but it does help to remember where you got the information that caused your problem.

All you wanted as a child was acceptance, not perfection!

And you can find lots of acceptance in adult life, but you will never find perfection.


The problem with perfectionism is all the time and energy it takes. While you are trying to be perfect at work your personal life suffers, and vice versa.

And, since perfection is always impossible, the fact that other people are happy with you doesn’t really matter because YOU are never satisfied!


The solution to perfectionism is to relax.

While accepting that you will never be perfect (and stopping when you feel relief), all aspects of your life, work and home, can be “good enough.”

And, since acceptance is possible, the fact that other people are happy with you does matter and you can experience satisfaction!


People who are getting over perfectionism always face a dilemma: How can they measure how well they are doing?

I suggest that they weigh the “past voices” (memories from childhood) against the “current voices” (bosses, customers, spouses, children) and realize that only the current voices are based in reality.

After a rather long while, the past voices just fade away.

If the current people in your life are not pleased with your work, maybe your work really isn’t good enough and you need to make some changes.

But maybe not…..

It might also be that your boss or your spouse have the same problem your parent had – that they are unable to be pleased. (Since we tend to pick partners who are like our parents, this happens often.) If so, you’ll want to pay far greater attention to the people in your life who CAN be pleased.


Perfectionism is a real problem, not something to be proud of.

It comes from parents who could not be pleased.

You can overcome it by acknowledging relief, by taking the time to relax, by giving up on being perfect, and by ABSORBING the acceptance you always wanted.

If you doubt your competence after you stop trying to be perfect, believe the people you know who CAN be pleased.

If you don’t know any people like this, you need a whole lot of new friends!


Tony Schirtzinger is a Therapist in Milwaukee, WI that offers confidential and
practical advice, online.  Visit HelpYourselfTherapy.Com for more free articles.



  1. This was GREAT! Thanks for the info, i am going to print this, and read it every day for the next few weeks. I know this will sink in. This short article makes the problem of perfectionism, which affects people their entire lives, seem like no big deal, and something that can and will be overcome. Thanks!

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