Perfectionism Can Burn You Out (But The Remedy Is Surprisingly Simple)

“Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order.” – Anne Wilson Schaef

Are you the queen of perfectionism?

I was.

People could hardly stand to be around me. I was unbearable. Everything had to be done the way I did it, or it wasn’t done correctly. 

But if you’re pitying the person on the receiving end of my perfectionism, know that I was harder on myself than anyone else. Everything had to be perfect, so I could never be satisfied with anything I did. Because, let’s face it, there’s no such thing as perfection.  

As perfectionism took its toll on my health and well-being, I realized I needed to be okay with “good enough.” So I began to catch myself whenever I was being a perfectionist (which was almost all the time). I would stop what I was doing and say, “It’s okay if it’s good enough.”

At first I would find myself clenching my teeth while I declared, “Okay, it’s good enough! I’m done.” I would make myself move on, even when it was very challenging. But over time I relaxed and stopped clenching my teeth. 

Still, there was a catch.

Just When I Thought I’d Moved Beyond Perfectionism, Guess What Happened?

After many years of “good enough”, I had gotten pretty good at catching any perfectionistic tendencies before they caused trouble. And then, I started dating my now-husband, Dean. He began to visit me in South Florida from his home in New York State. Maybe you can guess what happened! 

From what I recall, it started with the dishwasher. Well, it’s my dishwasher so, of course, I would know the only right way to arrange the dishes in it. And my husband is a wonderful man, so he would load the dishwasher for me.

One day I opened the dishwasher to put something in. To my horror, it was in complete disarray. Things that should have been in the bottom rack were on the top, and vice versa. The  big plates were blocking the water access, and… well, I could go on and on.

I hustled into the living room and said to Dean, “Can you come into the kitchen so I can show you how to load the dishwasher.” He just looked at me kind of amused. “Honey, I know how to load a dishwasher,” he said. To which I responded, “I believe that you know how to load your dishwasher, but this is my dishwasher, and I need to show you a few things.” 

When he said calmly, “You know, it doesn’t have to be perfect,” that was when it hit me that my perfectionism had reared its ugly head. I paused for a moment. Then I laughed. “Okay!” I said, “Then can I show you how it can be good enough?” 

We had a good laugh over that. 

Luckily, in this situation, we were both able to have a sense of humor, so it actually brought us closer together instead of driving us apart. 

Yet you probably know that the long-term results of rampant perfectionism aren’t nearly so benign.

Why Chronic Perfectionism Can Put You In Full-Blown Burnout

The impact of perfectionism is that you are never satisfied. Your energy is drained; you feel overwhelmed, like you’ll never catch up; you’re forgetful and have a hard time focusing; you have difficulty sleeping; and you lose your sense of enjoyment in life. 

The impact of perfectionism is that you are never satisfied. Your energy is drained; you feel overwhelmed, like you’ll never catch up; you’re forgetful and have a hard time focusing; you have difficulty sleeping; and you lose your… Click To Tweet

As well, some of the largest costs associated with perfectionism may be in terms of poor health. A longitudinal study following a sample of Canadians over 6.5 years showed that perfectionism predicted earlier mortality! This finding held even after controlling for other health risk factors such as pessimism and low conscientiousness.

Yes, perfectionism can cause you to die sooner than you would if you let go of it.

But for most of us, unrelenting perfectionism can be a recipe for chronic stress – a major contributor to burnout.

Let’s take a look at what’s going on beneath the veneer of perfectionism.

What’s Under The Mask Of Perfectionism

Underlying perfectionism is the fear that you’re not lovable if you make a mistake. 

You feel that you won’t be or can’t be loved if you’re not perfect. 

Most of us developed this belief early in our childhood; long before we were ever conscious of it. By the time you’re an adult, perfectionism is deeply etched into your being and taking a toll on your health and happiness. 

You may not be satisfied with anything you do, convinced that no matter how hard you try it just won’t be good enough. You may also fear that someone will agree with you. The irony is that you will find whatever you’re looking for. So if you look for imperfections and believe they’re there, you’re going to find them. 

Maybe you fear making a mistake. And when you do (because we’re human and we all make mistakes), you’re convinced you’re unlovable. You tell yourself you’re dumb; a fool; an idiot – leading you to feel even more unworthy of love, which causes you to stop caring for yourself. And so you drive your self-worth into the ground in a spiral of self-loathing.

Can you see how insidious this belief is?

Now let’s take a look at the remedy. 

The Antidote To Perfectionism

Since Wikipedia defines perfectionism as “strain[ing] compulsively and unceasingly toward unobtainable goals, and measur[ing] … self-worth by productivity and accomplishment,” you can see how you unwittingly tank your feeling of self-worth when you don’t measure up.

And lack of self-worth means you’re not loving yourself. You can’t love what you don’t value.

Thus, the remedy to perfectionism and its accompanying feeling of being unlovable is surprisingly simple, yet powerful:

Love and care for yourself no matter what. 

Here are examples of what I mean:

  • Schedule time for self-care such as soaking in a hot bath, reading your favorite book, or getting a massage
  • Exercise daily; even a 10-minute walk will support your well-being
  • Eat nutritious food
  • Meditate
  • Establish a practice of saying affirmations daily

Here’s a powerful affirmation that’s appropriate to perfectionism: 

“I give up being perfect for being authentic. All parts of me are lovable, and it’s safe to share them. Authenticity is the key to genuine connection with myself and others.”

Through the years, I’ve coached many clients who were perfectionists. By focusing on self-love and self-care, they’ve been able to release the need to be perfect and the seriousness of purpose that accompanies it. This has allowed them to embrace fun, joy, and authenticity more often and with greater ease. 

I’ve put together a list of 23 of My Favorite Self-Care Activities That Take Less Than 15 Minutes for you to refer to as you focus on self-love and self-care.  Sign up here to receive this gift right away!

It’s Time To Let Go Of Your Perfectionism

You know perfectionism can wreck your health, put you into full-blown burnout, and rob you of the joy that’s your birthright.

It’s time to let it go. For your sake, as well as for the sake of people who love you and care about you.

As well, trust me when I say that people actually find you more lovable when you screw things up!  When you’re authentically imperfect, you invoke your humanity. Others like to see that you too are human, because, let’s face it, it’s hard to be around a perfect person all the time.

I understand that letting go of your perfectionism may seem daunting. But I also know when you make a conscious commitment to yourself, your life will dramatically improve. 

If you desire to be supported by me in your letting go, I encourage you to join my free From Burnout to Balance 7-Day Self-Love Challenge.

During these 7 days, we’ll look at what’s really going on beneath the signs of burnout. I’ll give you simple strategies for how to turn things around so you can get on the path towards balance and enjoying your life again…

If you’re ready to break out of the burnout cycle and desire to be…

  • Relaxed and confident, knowing you’re tending to the most important priorities
  • Energized, clear and focused
  • Calm, easy-going and peaceful
  • Sleeping like a baby and waking up rested
  • Engaged, inspired and passionate about your life 

Join me by clicking here to sign up for my next From Burnout to Balance 7-Day Self-Love Challenge. 

6 Ways To Overcome Burnout-Related Pessimism

The relationship between pessimism and burnout is like the classic “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” question.

Paradoxically, pessimism is one of the signs of burnout. Yet it’s also one of the conditions that, left unaddressed, can lead to burnout.

At first, pessimism may present itself as negative self-talk. Your normal perspective of seeing the proverbial glass as half-full may wane to a persistent glass half-empty attitude. 

And at its worst, pessimism can move beyond how you feel about yourself and extend to trust issues with coworkers and family members, along with a feeling that you can’t count on anyone.

Pessimism, along with its close counterpart cynicism, is an early warning sign of burnout. You simply can’t feel positive about what you’re doing when you’re overwhelmed by everything coming at you in your life — and it’s easy then to misdirect your feelings of anger and disappointment about this toward, well, pretty much everyone. 

Pessimism, along with its close counterpart cynicism, is an early warning sign of burnout. You simply can’t feel positive about what you’re doing when you’re overwhelmed by everything coming at you in your life Click To Tweet

Though you may normally feel enthusiastic about tackling new projects and taking on new hobbies, when pessimism takes over you’re unlikely to seek out new experiences because you believe there’s no point. You’re sure there isn’t any joy or interest to be found. And that belief sets up a vicious circle that mires you deeper in pessimism.

And pessimism isn’t just a mental state. It also produces stress hormones, so your physical health takes a hit too. Chronic activation of your stress-response system along with the overexposure to stress hormones can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of many health problems, including: anxiety, digestive problems, headaches, and heart disease. 

Which came first, burnout or pessimism? Truthfully, when you’re in the throes of burnout-related pessimism, you probably don’t care which came first. You just want it to be better. 

So let’s take a look at the six ways you can overcome pessimism and start to regain your cheerful outlook on life.

Pessimistic woman bursting gift of a balloon

#1 Stop negative talk. Start positive talk.

Speaking negatively about others or yourself will rob you of your optimism faster than ice melting in the desert. Stop the negative talk. Start positive talk. A tool that can be used to reprogram negative self-talk is affirmations. 

Affirmations are statements you repeat in order to affect your subconscious and conscious minds, and they power up your positivity. How do they work? The subconscious mind is 90% of your total Mind and therefore has the greatest influence over whatever it is you wish to create. By repeating affirmations out loud, daily, they influence your subconscious mind and help replace limiting beliefs with more empowering beliefs.

#2 Cultivate an “attitude of gratitude”

Sit with a notebook and a pen, and take time to write down all the things in your life you’re grateful for. No matter how small it may seem, it’s important to acknowledge what’s good in your life. Perhaps it’s appreciation for the comfortable bed you slept in last night. Or the scent of rain-soaked flowers that wafts in through your windows. When you look for things to appreciate, you’ll find them everywhere. This will increase your optimism and positive self-talk.

#3 Focus on the possibilities, not the impossibilities

You become pessimistic when you focus on what isn’t possible. All you see are huge obstacles in your way. You feel overwhelmed by problems, and can no longer see yourself as capable. 

Instead, focus your mind on the possibilities. Envision yourself overcoming even just one difficulty. Mentally walk yourself through the challenge, seeing yourself as capable and successful.

#4 Read inspiring stories

Remember how inspired you felt when you learned the stories of some of our most cherished heroes who persisted and achieved their dream? Recapture that feeling – read about Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln, or Eleanor Roosevelt. Or whoever inspires you!

#5 Open your mind for new possibilities

If you’ve closed your mind to new possibilities, you can plunge yourself into pessimism. Be open to creating or allowing new perspectives to show you a variety of ways things could work out. You may discover that solutions to problems or life challenges come in unexpected ways that never occurred to you before. Prepare to be surprised and delighted!

#6 Get my complimentary “From Burnout To Balance: A Simple 10-Minute Daily Self-Care Practice”

This practice has been shown to:

  • Increase mindfulness, well-being, self-confidence, and personal power
  • Increase your ability to concentrate
  • Cultivate a greater resilience to stress, a positive mindset, and a sense of hopefulness and calm
  • Decrease stress and stress-related symptoms like frustration, mood swings, feelings of overwhelm or lack of control, anxiety, depression, low energy, headaches, body aches and pains, muscle tension, chest pain and rapid heartbeat, insomnia, and frequent colds and infections
  • Reduce or even stop worrying

Get my complimentary “From Burnout To Balance: A Simple 10-Minute Daily Self-Care Practice” here.

It’s Time To Regain Your Optimism

Being mired in the dreariness of burnout-related pessimism sucks the life out of you. You look ahead to the future and see…blah. Nothing inspiring. Your hope is gone, and you don’t seem to be able to get it back. 

I know; I’ve been there. 

But here’s the thing. 

Because I turned around my burnout with its relentless pessimism, I know you can too.

Use the tips I’ve given you. And stay connected, because I’ve got more good stuff for you.

You don’t have to face your pessimism and burnout alone. I’m here to help.