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  • Writer's pictureMelisa De Seguirant

Dismantling Perfectionism

The fear of imperfection is shared by many. In a world where the normative culture reigns supreme and everyone outside is viewed as lesser-than, imperfection is a reasonable enough fear. When we allow it to rule us, however, it severely impacts our mental health and wellbeing. 

Treat the fear of imperfection like any phobia, with gradual exposure therapy. Start small if you must, but start somewhere.


REFLECT ~ Have you struggled with perfectionism at one point or another in your life? How has it impacted you? What has perpetuated it? Have you ever done anything to intentionally challenge it? Why or why not, and what has been the result? 


Scroll through these ideas to get you started, and read on for more thoughts...


Allow yourself to explore the physicality of perfectionism for a moment. If embodied, what would be its stance? What would its gait be like? How would it hold itself? 

Notice the tension. How long can you hold this pose? What might be the cost?

NOW, try on this one… embodied acceptance. What gesture does this invite? How does this change your posture? Your stance? Your breathing?

In my body, perfectionism feels stiff, rigid, anxious, tight. Little room for breath, all muscles exerting themselves simultaneously in a fatiguing fight to keep myself contained. Acceptance, on the other hand, feels expansive, open and receptive. Much less physically taxing, more engaging, creative and fluid. 

Next time you find yourself in a perfectionistic spiral, try working with your body. Notice how your mental state impacts how you hold yourself, and take some time to slowly invite in some release and relaxation. Notice what happens next. 

In therapy we sometimes offer progressive muscle relaxation exercises to help the body learn to release tension. It’s a useful skill, but truly only a band-aid. Feeling safe to be our imperfect, messy, creative, wonderfully inspiring selves is what creates the core-level psychological and physical release so many of us need.


It would be easy to adopt black and white thinking when it comes to perfectionism and deem the entire concept “bad”. Is there ever a place for perfectionism, or at least precision? What if you are undertaking some sort of feat where the margin of error is slim?

Those who have researched perfectionism write about two subtypes; perfectionism motivated by fear of failure versus by passion, in pursuit of “excellence”.

The trouble may lie in what we set as our standard for “excellent” or “perfect”, and the meaning we make when people inevitably fall short. 

Especially when brought into social systems, even the pursuit of perfection can lead to extremely damaging thinking and cultural irresponsibility.

Applied perfectionism in social spheres has links to white supremacy culture, placing whiteness in the seat of “excellence” and leaving everyone born without white privilege to be made to feel lesser-than.

Pursuit of the normative culture should NOT be mistaken as the pursuit of excellence, but understood as a fear response, survival response, even. Nobody heals while this kind of toxic ideology reigns supreme. The act of rejecting this kind of  perfectionism is one of resistance. 

Wanting to get those measurements exact while baking, practicing to be able to achieve perfect pitch or striving for exactness while conducting a major operation, however, may be less damaging forms of perfectionism. 

What I would encourage is mindfulness. Many of us deal with perfectionistic tendencies at times, whether part of our organic human nature or programmed into us through social conditioning. Instead of attempting to be “perfectly imperfect” and shaming or rejecting our perfectionistic tendencies altogether, let’s work towards awareness of what is motivating them and resilience when confronted with imperfection and perceived failure.



REFLECTION ~ If perfectionism and fear didn’t control you, what would be different about your life? What would you risk trying out, if it didn’t matter that you did it poorly? What are the things that you would express if you didn’t have to express them perfectly? How would this impact how you treat yourself, and other people? What new things might you learn about yourself if you allow yourself to live in the captivating messiness of imperfection? What growth might you be able to experience if you were allowed to make mistakes along the way?



“The piano ain’t got no wrong notes” - Thelonius Monk

“Do not fear mistakes. There are none.” - Miles Davis


Other jazz musicians and composers have echoed similar sentiments. The idea being expressed here is that in jazz, strict adherence to musical structure and form is not the goal. Any preconceived notion of what music “should” sound like is rendered irrelevant.

True to the rules of improvisation, the point is to say “yes, and” to every note played, reframing perceived mistakes as opportunities, and using the next beat to resolve whatever came just before it (or not!)

So here’s an idea, approach your life like a jazz piece; unpredictable, unrefined, raw, provocative, exciting and real. When approaching life this way there can be no missteps,

just next steps. 

This is the kind of beauty we can experience when we disempower perfectionism. 

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