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Letting Go of Perfectionism in Addiction Recovery

By November 4, 2021Recovery

Reach for your dreams!  It’s something that we all want.  We have big dreams of what our lives should look like, what we want our futures to hold, and how we wish ourselves to be.  Dreams are how we set goals and challenge ourselves towards a better tomorrow.


But when we struggle with perfectionism, we feel that we must achieve those dreams as we imagine them, perfect and without failure.  And sometimes, our perfectionist desire for that ideal bright future leads us into addiction and darkness instead. 

What is Perfectionism  

We want to strive to do our best.  But we may not achieve that perfect body, find the ideal job, or never struggle.  And yet, we can still be happy and feel fulfilled.  But perfectionists may struggle with this and continually feel disappointed in their lives.    

Perfectionism can make us feel that our personal best does not allow for any mistakes.  But as human beings, we are not always perfect.  We have flaws and setbacks. We make mistakes and things that happen outside of our control that may influence our lives and situations.  

What are Some Perfectionism Traits

The Need to Be Perfect 

Someone struggling with perfectionism believes that there is no room for mistakes or flaws.

Any error is taken personally.  It’s seen as a flaw on the individual themselves and not as a lesson to learn and correct for the future. They need to be perfect, but when mistakes happen, it results in harsh self-criticism and can fill them with shame.   

Setting Unrealistic Expectations 

Being perfect is impossible, and perfectionism results in setting goals that can never be achieved.  

It can be wanting an unrealistic body size or hoping for overnight success.  It can be more of a day-to-day issue. A perfectionist might be trying to get dozens of things accomplished when there are only enough hours for a few on the list. 

Instead of being realistic about what can be done, they must push themselves past what is possible. 

Even when those high goals are met, the achievements are rarely celebrated.  Instead, perfectionism will demand that they are reset higher instead.  

The failure to meet their goals leaves them with continual feelings of frustration and disappointment. 

See the Negative Even in Success

A perfectionist struggles with being about to accept their successes.  An athlete that won the game may only focus on the missed shots.  A student that received a 95% grade may beat themselves up for the few missed points.  Anything short of absolute perfectionism is not seen as a success.   Even when they are top of their class, they still see themselves as failures.  

Difficult Time Letting Go of Past Mistakes 

Because perfectionists see mistakes as personal failures, they struggle with self-forgiveness.  Clinging to negative memory of past mistakes, they criticize themselves and use this maladaptive view of their self-worth to drive perfectionism traits in the future.  But each time, the cycle of self-defeat and failure happens if it does not turn out perfectly. 

Perfectionism can lead to feelings of constant disappointment, frustration and shame. It results in continuous fear of not being good enough.  They only feel worthy if they can show that they are perfect.

At its core, perfectionism is not about seeing ourselves as perfect but the exact opposite.  Perfectionists often see themselves as worthless or unlovable. And by setting impossible goals that guarantee failure, they continue to see themselves as the unworthy or unlovable beings that they fear themselves to be. 

Perfectionism in Addiction

Perfectionism can lead to persistent feelings of shame of past mistakes, frustration, and disappointment in oneself.  The continual inability to achieve the impossible standards results in regular stress and anxiety.  

When faced with constant feelings of self-defeat, many may turn to substances to numb these dark feelings.  And as the struggle with perfectionism continues to drive further feelings of worthlessness, these acts can lead to addiction.  

Perfectionism in Recovery

While perfectionism may drive some into addiction, it can also make recovery more difficult.  

  • Some may be afraid to seek recovery at all.   When one is trying to numb out the pain of self-deprecating feelings, no one wants to make those feelings worse.  But recovery could be another potential failure.  To some, it may feel like it’s better not to try than to try and fail.  
  • When one feels that one must be perfect, there is a belief that you have to do it all independently.  Perfectionists may have a more difficult time being willing to ask for help.  Those that are struggling with addiction may struggle to seek treatment. 
  • Because they focus on their mistakes more than their success, perfectionists may be more vulnerable to self-sabotage.  They may see one misstep as a total failure of the program and let it undo all of their progress.  
  • Lastly, as individuals that are continually focused on goals, perfectionists may see recovery as a single milestone.  But addiction recovery is a lifelong process and lifestyle and not a single moment of success. 

How To Combat Perfectionism to Help Addiction Recovery 

Even though perfectionism can make recovery more difficult, it doesn’t make it impossible.  Here are some ways to help reduce the effects of perfectionism:

  • Work on setting realistic expectations.  Try focusing on smaller goals, and make sure to celebrate successes and milestones.  
  • Understand that process takes time, and setbacks may happen when healing in recovery.  Relapse is another step along the journey and not an end. 
  • Whether it be on the job or in recovery, mistakes are a part of life.  You are not a failure, and a temporary lapse is not a reason to stop trying.
  • Practice self-care.   Programs like meditation and self-care exercises can help to build your self-esteem and self-confidence.  Remember that we are all worthy of living a good life, and believing in ourselves is a key to recovery. 
  • Seek support from others.  No one needs to do it alone.  Seek support groups and recovery plans to help.  Consider courses such as the Satori 28 day course or the free Facebook community to work through your goals. 


A common saying in addiction recovery is “progress, not perfection.”  But perfectionism can be a deeply rooted struggle for many people. At its core, perfectionism is a constant whisper that we are not good enough.  

But with help and support, we can overcome.  And when combating perfectionism in addiction, recovery will extend far beyond just substance abuse.  Letting go of the need to be perfect will extend to all reaches of our lives.  And those dreams of our future can return to being a positive guide to our bright tomorrows.  


Laurie Trueblood is a freelance writer specializing in topics of nerd culture and mental health.  She is the editor for Adventures to Authenticity, a fantasy-themed self-development and lifestyle site.



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