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How to Get Past Perfectionism in Recovery

Perfectionism can make recovery even harder. A perfectionist may be reluctant to ask for help at all. When she does, she may have trouble taking advice from others. She may have difficulty persevering in the face of setbacks, especially big setbacks like relapses. Perhaps the biggest challenge is finding the humility to try, fail, and keep trying. If perfectionism has been a challenge for you, here are some ideas for getting past it.

Don’t bother trying to lower your standards.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with high standards. The problem is usually in how you react to not meeting them. High standards should inspire you, not oppress you. High standards are only bad when your response to not meeting them is “I didn’t do this perfectly, so I’m a failure.”

Do recognize those standards for what they are.

Any standard you set for yourself is more or less arbitrary. You get some idea in your head and you think you must absolutely meet that standard or it will be awful. When these standards are concrete at all, they often are based on something from TV or movies. More often, these standards are just a vague notion with no particular form. It’s impossible to meet either standard. If you do have some real life exemplar in mind, even a cursory investigation of that person’s life will reveal many mistakes and failures, often worse than any you’re likely to ever experience.

Separate what you do from who you are.

Perfectionists tend to think if they fail at something, then they are a failure, especially if it’s something important. In addiction recovery, this distinction is important, especially when it comes to the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is the feeling you have done something bad while shame is the feeling you are bad. If a perfectionist fails to behave ethically, she is more likely to feel like that failure is permanent and intrinsic. Therefore, she feels shame. Thinking of your behavior as a collection of actions that will improve with practice is one way of taking failure less personally.

Realize others don’t have to be perfect to help you.

Imagine you take your car to a shop that’s highly recommended by credible people. You happen to discover that the mechanic knows nothing at all about Russian literature. Do you take your car and leave? Of course not. Russian literature is not the relevant expertise here. Similarly, there will be many people trying to help you in recovery and none of them will be perfect. The relevant question is not whether they meet your standards, but whether they have expertise in addiction recovery and want to help.

Celebrate imperfect achievements.

Most days in recovery, especially early on, will be a mixed bag. You might have a terrible day and at the end feel like there’s no point in trying to stay sober. However, you can just as easily flip it–you had a terrible day and still managed to stay sober! Maybe you feel like you did nothing worthwhile all day except go to a meeting. That’s still a win. Every small thing that moves you forward is a win. There will never be a perfect day or a decisive victory against addiction, so celebrate the wins, however small.

Nobody’s perfect. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help you detox and decide on a treatment strategy. Call us today at 844-325-9168 or email us at to learn more.