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Perfectionism and ADHD: Distorted Thinking Can Cause Problems

Adult ADHD and perfectionist tendencies can go hand in hand.

“(In our work,) …perfectionism emerged as the #1 distortion in the thinking of adults with ADHD. It can play a role in the ADHD person’s sense of shame. “Everything has to be right to get started” (front end perfectionism) or else “I have to do better than others to ensure that it’s acceptable” (back end perfectionism).—J. Russell Ramsey, Ph.D., Penn Behavioral Health

It’s easy to guess where perfectionism comes from for those with ADHD. If you have trouble staying organized or sorting through information, it would only be logical to want to get everything right to get started. This would seem to lessen your chances for failure.

If details often escape your attention, or you’re conscious that others do work more easily than you, it would be logical to want to make sure everything is ‘just right’ before you turn it in. This would seem to lessen the chances of criticism.

The problem with this logic is that the outcome that this effort is aimed for – making sure you or your work is acceptable – becomes harder to attain because perfectionism takes so much time and effort. It’s exhausting, not leaving brain space for other important work or family activities. And missing a deadline in seeking perfection is still missing the deadline.

Further, perfect is almost impossible to attain – for anyone. If you feel it’s your job to be perfect to pass muster, you are constantly going to be frustrated and feel ashamed that you can’t be. Wouldn’t it be far better to strive for good enough and then move on?

Okay, I know perfectionism is insidious and not easy to deal with. But I put this out as food for thought. If you have a perfectionist in your family, consider having some overt conversations about your joint priorities; ‘perfect’ might not be as important as ‘together time.’ Or getting more things done in a certain time frame might be more valued (and less criticized) than getting a few things done 'just right." And seek to reinforce those instances of good enough as being wonderful (dare I say ‘perfect’).

In our household, the definition of ‘perfect’ is, actually, ‘good enough.’ The balance this creates in our lives, because we don’t waste time getting everything just right, is what we seek. For both of us. Could you have that, too?