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The effect of perfectionism on our mental health: a conversation with myself.


What does that word mean to you? Is it a problem foreign to you? Or do you have experience with this tireless fiend?

For me, it is overthinking about any task, be that trivial or of great significance; with it comes hours and hours of stress. I find myself constantly going over the details of what I have to do, how long it will take, what it will entail because everything I do has to be perfect.

With all the roles that I play in my life I find that I expect myself to always be the best. I must be the perfect student, I must be the perfect daughter, the perfect Muslim, the perfect friend. The list goes on and on…

But what if I cut myself some slack? What if I told myself that whatever I did was enough and that I was good enough?

The very thought of it is freeing. So, if you’re like me and struggle with perfectionism, or if you just want an insight- read on for a self q&a: how to be beautifully imperfect.

  1. I feel like everything I do has to be completely unflawed, but whatever I do is never enough – is that what perfectionism is? 

Experts tend to agree that perfectionism can be defined as having unrealistic or excessive expectations, and this often comes with ‘overly critical self-evaluations’. Therefore, what I feel does in fact characterise perfectionism.

There are several different types of perfectionism- three of which are self-orientated perfectionism, other orientated perfectionism and socially prescribed perfectionism.

The first type is when the expectations and criticisms are of yourself, the second of others and the latter is when you feel that in the social context you come with people that expect perfection from you.

  1. When I’m unable to fulfil my expectations, I often feel quite distressed and sometimes the very thought of working towards them makes me feel anxious. Is this because of perfectionism?

Toxic perfectionism is quite common and is linked to several mental health problems: anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation are only a few that have been repeatedly linked with this form of perfectionism.  In one study it was found that over half of people who died by suicide were described by their loved ones as “perfectionists.”

If we strive for complete perfection in ourselves and the different roles we play, our unrealistic expectations are likely to go unfulfilled which can be impactful on self-esteem and this is inevitably catastrophic.

  1. I don’t want this to continue to affect me, what can I do to help with my perfectionism?

Wanting to change is one of the most important steps and often the hardest. From here it only gets easier in sha Allah (God willing).

Here are three steps to unleashing your beautifully imperfect self:

  1. Remember your faith, remember your intentions:

Remember that the Creator made you and he is Al- Adheem, the Magnificent. Any creation of His, is surely good enough yet we are not made to be perfect. We are made to try our hardest and that will always be enough. It is our intentions that count, and our ultimate intention should be to please Him.

“So do not weaken and do not grieve, and you will be superior if you are [true] believers.”
[Qur’an 3:139]

  1. Counter your inner critic:

You have to learn to counter your inner critic, remind yourself that its harshness is inaccurate. This can be done through the process of self-compassion: speaking to yourself kindly. You can learn to write down your harsh thoughts or challenge them mentally and replace them with more practical and beneficial ones.

For example, replace the negative thought ‘I am not good enough’ with ‘I may not be exactly where I want to be yet, but I am trying my hardest’.

  1. Use salah, meditation & yoga for mindfulness:

These techniques can be used to displace the negative thoughts and re-establish a sense of peace in your mind. By re-focusing your attention in the here and now, you can organise the chaos in your mind and develop a sense of calm.

What has your experience with perfectionism been like? Can you make a change? Let us know in the comments below.

Zainab Shafan

Zainab is currently studying psychology at UCL. She was studying Psychological and Behavioural Sciences at the University of Cambridge, however that did not work out so she took a year out to pursue other interests and gain experience. During this time she released her own book named 'Free to Go', available on amazon. She also set up her own blog: Zen Words. She also aimed to build a foundation for herself to develop skills and give back to the community; and the perfect opportunity arose with Inspirited Minds. The charity combines two disciplines very close to her heart (Islam and Psychology) and to be able to be involved through writing, a passion of hers, is a huge blessing. Reading the newsletters herself has been a continuous source of enlightenment and a means of catharsis; so, to be able to provide this for other people will be undoubtedly rewarding.

One Comment

  • Zahra Bakht says:

    I believe people who procrastinate actively are more successful than the people who procrastinate passively. Because active procrastinator tend to plan their work but do it in last hour that create anxiety but that anxiety is useful for them to complete the task properly.

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