The Perfectionism Trap: How It Fuels Your Imposter Feelings

The Perfectionism Trap: How It Fuels Your Imposter Feelings

Do you ever find yourself setting impossibly high standards for yourself? Do you struggle to celebrate successes, instead focusing on the tiniest flaws in your work? If a nagging voice inside keeps telling you that you're not good enough, no matter what you achieve, you may be caught in the perfectionism trap – and it could be making your imposter syndrome worse.

What is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism isn't just striving for excellence. It's a relentless drive for flawlessness that's impossible to achieve. Perfectionists often tie their self-worth to performance, leading to a constant fear of failure, criticism, and being exposed as a fraud - sounds a lot like Impostor Syndrome and they often go hand in hand!

The Link to Imposter Syndrome

Perfectionism can be viewed as a strategy that is developed to try to protect against the fear of failure and negative judgment, but like many strategies we develop it can become problematic in it's own right. It is not uncommon for people struggling with Impostor Syndrome to develop perfectionism as a coping strategy. This makes good sense, because if something can be done perfectly then there is little risk of criticism or being "found out". However, like with many coping strategies that can seem helpful they can also produce unintended consequences that serve to help maintain the problems.

The Perfectionism Trap

Perfectionism is neither good or bad in itself, like everything it depends on where and when it is used and how it is working for you in relation to your goals and values at the time. Perfectionism becomes problematic when it is overused in a very rigid and inflexible way.

Perfectionism becomes problematic for many reasons including:

  • Unrealistic standards: Perfectionists judge themselves harshly against idealised goals. Even when they succeed, it never feels like enough.
  • Focus on negatives: Perfectionists fixate on mistakes, minimising achievements. This creates a skewed mental record that reinforces the "imposter" belief.
  • Fear of failure: The perfectionist's intense need to avoid mistakes can lead to procrastination or giving up entirely. This feeds the fear of being found out.
  • Attributing success externally: Perfectionists often chalk up wins to good luck or other people's help, downplaying their role – the typical imposter pattern.

Perfectionism has the effect of reinforcing the Impostor beliefs and feelings because even if something goes well it is attributed to the hard work and external factors rather than due to their abillities and competence. They may feel like they got lucky this time. The perfectionist never gets to see what would happen if they didn't work to these standards, and don't get to see they are capable, competent, good enough without having to work in this way. This prevents the beliefs from updating.

Breaking the Cycle

Overcoming the perfectionism-imposter syndrome duo takes work, but it's vital for building greater confidence and self-belief:

  1. Recognise the patterns: Start noticing when perfectionism creeps in. What are the triggers? How does it make you think and feel? What perfectionist behaviours do you engage in?
  2. Examine your inner critic: Are your standards realistic or impossibly harsh? Learn and develop new ways of responding to your unhelpful thoughts, learning to develop self-compassion.
  3. Focus on progress, not perfection: Celebrate small wins and effort. Every step forward weakens your belief in the "imposter" voice.
  4. Redefine success: Success isn't about being flawless; it's about learning, growing, and contributing.
  5. Seek support: Therapy can be incredibly valuable to explore the roots of perfectionism and develop healthier coping strategies.

Freeing Yourself

It's possible to escape the perfectionism trap and silence the inner voices that fuel your imposter feelings. With a kinder, more realistic approach to yourself, you'll reclaim the confidence to pursue your goals without the crushing weight of self-doubt.

Remember, you are worthy and capable, imperfections and all.

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