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Overcoming Perfectionism in Motherhood

How mothers can overcome the urge to be perfect.

Key points

  • Societal pressures push mothers to seek perfectionism in all facets of life.
  • Perfectionism can keep mothers stuck in a cycle of low self-esteem and anxiety while hindering growth.
  • Strategies to help mothers combat the urge to be perfect include challenging black-and-white thinking and journaling affirmations.

In life, we often fall victim to the urge to be perfect. Social media makes it easy to feel like our peers are living perfect lives, so our lives should be perfect.

But perfectionism is unattainable because it does not exist. When striving for something unattainable, a person may feel low self-esteem and low confidence, which turn into negative self-beliefs that fester when one inevitably fails.

We often think that the need to be perfect comes from a desire to be our best selves. But perfection is not about healthy achievement or growth. In Brene Brown’s definition, “perfectionism strives to be a shield against the pain of blame, judgment or shame.” This is why, if not examined critically, one can remain stagnant. So, if perfection is the goal, growth cannot be attained.

Perfectionist Signs

Believing we need to be perfect to obtain our goals drives us to exhibit behaviors that show a perfectionist’s mindset.

  1. Often, people pause tasks or procrastinate because they want them to be done right the first time. For some, this may hinder performing at all or completing a project. You might be a mom who skips chores or classes because you feel it is hopeless even to try if you cannot ensure a perfect outcome.
  2. You may view the end product as the essential part of the undertaking. As a result, you focus less on the process of learning how to complete the task to the best of your ability. When spending time completing a project, it is equally important to learn from mistakes made as it is to finish. When one focuses solely on the result, they miss out on this opportunity to find out how to improve their work.
  3. Think about how many attempted tasks seem incomplete in your mind. You cannot see a job as finished until the result is perfect according to your standards. This often leads to a negative sense of self because it forces the belief that since you were unable to finish the project to your standards, you have failed. An example would be a mom in school studying for an exam. After receiving her graded exam, she realizes she missed two points and views herself as a failure. To her, she has not completed the exam to the best of her abilities, and she tells herself she is a failure.
  4. You may take excessive time to complete a task that does not typically take others as long. For instance, a mom is working and has spent significant time crafting a short email. She is preoccupied with how her message could be interpreted and therefore takes time drafting as many different responses as possible.
  5. You have difficulty being happy for other mothers’ successes. Moms often see other moms and think, “How is she doing this when I can't even get this done?” Do you hold yourself to the standards of others' accomplishments or compare yourself unfavorably to others? When we struggle to get even half of our workload done, it can lead to a belief that we're not good enough.

Being a perfectionist is more common than people realize but it can be counteracted. Awareness of perfectionism or behaviors is the first step to unlearning and choosing to do things differently.

Perfectionism Keeps Us Stuck

Perfectionists may believe they are striving for healthy achievement. However, they are trying to protect themselves from the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. By doing so, progress halts. We don't progress when we feel like we have to wait for the perfect moment.

Secondly, perfectionism can paralyze us from all other options or choices. It makes us afraid to make decisions. This kind of procrastination feeds into and exacerbates anxiety. It becomes a cycle that leads to self-doubt, negative self-talk, low self-esteem, decreased confidence, and even racing thoughts.

Lastly, unchecked perfectionism can lead to depression and other serious mental health concerns. It is well known that anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. Therefore, if we don't check our perfectionism fueled by our anxiety, depression may follow.

Strategies for Unlearning and Undoing Perfectionism

With consistency and commitment, you can beat perfectionism. It is not easy, but worth it.

  1. Challenge black-and-white thinking or thinking in extremes. Remind yourself that one mistake does not ruin the progress you have made; it means that you learned something and will do it differently next time while still moving toward your goal. Remind yourself that everyone has flaws, and we all make mistakes.
  2. Write down or journal positive affirmations, particularly in areas that encourage you to strive for perfection. For example, you may discover that things you do as a mother have to be perfect. Write positive affirmations about yourself in this area. If perfectionism shows up in your work, write positive affirmations about yourself in your work role. Put them somewhere where you can see them daily because we need to be reminded of these positive things.
  3. Practice becoming more aware of how you speak to yourself. Reevaluate self-talk—the thoughts going through your head, and your beliefs about yourself. The more aware you are of this, the more capable you are to challenge it when it is harmful and untrue. Think of positive replacements for some of the negativity.

Be Imperfect on Purpose

We need to get into the habit of knowing that mistakes will not hurt us and that being imperfect is not as harmful as we believe. Make a habit of trying new hobbies. When we try new things, we start from the beginning. Having moments to learn something new provides opportunities to realize that making a mistake is sometimes necessary and harmless.

Perfectionism only feeds anxiety and hinders our growth, so we must actively counteract this urge, especially as mothers. These strategies should help improve mental and emotional wellness through practice and careful introspection.

For more, listen to Episode 13 of The Balanced Working Mama Podcast.

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