This is an email I received recently from a young woman asking for help with perfectionism.



Dear Mr. Esselman,

I’m 13 years old and experiencing signs of being a perfectionist. I got interested in this topic because I always catch myself getting extremely mad and aggressive with myself. At first I thought it was anxiety because I would get extremely frantic and I would worry. I did not know how to control the feelings so I would yell at myself and get myself in a bad mental state. I was looking at all the signs of being a perfectionist and I came to meet every single one of them. I was wondering how I could calm down when I rage at myself and how I can control the feelings.



Dear XXX,

I found your letter very interesting. When I was about 13, I too began struggling with perfectionism. Unlike you, I did not reach out for help. So, I applaud your courage to ask for assistance and your commitment or investment in yourself.

If getting mad at yourself has not helped, stop doing it! Getting angry can feel like we are really doing something to change but since it has not helped, it is just an illusion.

Try to accept the fact that no one can be perfect. You probably are good at some things and bad at others. I good at am some things and bad at others but NO ONE is perfect at anything or everything!

I think the drive to be perfect comes from: 1. Parents and teachers encouraging us to always “do our best” and that gets taken too far, 2. Our own desires to please either others or ourselves, especially when it comes to grades or projects, and that also gets taken too far, 3. Being overwhelmed by the expectations we feel in our lives and most importantly, 4. Incorrect beliefs about making mistakes.

People fear that if they don’t expect themselves to be perfect, they will stop trying at everything. This is usually why parents and teachers urge us to always “Do your best!” This belief is false. When we stop expecting ourselves to be perfect at everything, we free ourselves up to decide how much we want to try at doing something. This can be hard to do because, as an adolescent, you are just beginning to develop the skills you will use in your adult life and you don’t know what your innate skills/abilities/talents are… teachers and parents tell you to do your best at everything. Also, sometimes you have to work really hard in the beginning when learning something new. Later on, once you have learned more about the subject, it then comes more naturally and you excel in the area.

People usually feel making mistakes is bad. But, in truth, MOST LEARNING is based on making mistakes/learning from those mistakes. When we beat ourselves up after making a mistakes, we are so flooded with shame or guilt, we lose the opportunity to figure how why or how we made the mistake and learn from it.

Back to your question about how to you calm down when you are angry at yourself. I’d suggest first you try to decide which things in your life you want to excel at and the things you want to do “just good enough”. Second, change your wording. Eliminate “perfect” from your vocabulary and substitute words that reflect your desire to excel or do “good enough”. Third, talk to someone who will encourage you in this. This will be a big change for you in your life and you will need help. I did.

Did that answer your question? I am happy to email more about this topic but ask that you tell your parents about our conversation and show them our emails.