How To Overcome Perfectionism When You Have ADHD

How To Overcome Perfectionism

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Did you know that women with ADHD can be, and often are, perfectionists!?

I have been doing a startling amount of research lately on ADHD in women. I am reading books, journal articles, online articles and blogs…you name it I have probably read it. I have become particularly interested in how to overcome perfectionism when you have ADHD.

This started out as a review of Dr. Jane Bluestein’s book, The Perfection Deception. I had a chance to hear Dr. Bluestein speak at my local JCC a couple months ago. I found her intensely interesting, not just because she was an educator (like myself), but also because she struck me as part of my “Tribe”.

I have no proof that Dr. Bluestein has ADHD. But her mannerisms, patterns of speech and thought were so reminiscent of my own, I absolutely could not ignore my gut feeling, so I bought her book.

You can purchase a copy here:

The Perfection Deception: Why Striving to Be Perfect Is Sabotaging Your Relationships, Making You Sick, and Holding Your Happiness Hostage

As a woman with ADHD, I feel that we all need to embrace the philosophy of Wabi Sabi.

WTH is wabi sabi, you ask?

According to this source ,“wab sabi is an ancient aesthetic philosophy rooted in Zen Buddhism…celebrating the beauty in what is natural, including flaws.”

That’s me – “naturally flawed”.

Those of us with ADHD should practice self-acceptance by embracing our imperfections.

It’s not just about being ashamed. It’s about wishing (or hoping) you can “beat it.”  Some of us feel so unable to control our symptoms we start trying to control everything little thing. This is the kind of thinking that leads to perfectionism.

how to overcome perfectionism when you have adhd

Perfectionists Have Trouble Making Mistakes

More than anything, “perfectionists are rigid”, according to Dr. Adrian Furnham. <link> Furnham explains that perfectionists believe that “their acceptance and lovability is a function of never making mistakes…it’s all or nothing.”

I will admit that I am remarkably rigid for someone who lacks the ability to focus on anything for more than a few minutes at a time. My behavior also confirms Dr. Furnham’s statement that for perfectionists, “mistakes are equated to failure.”

As a person with ADHD – I take mistakes hard. I want in the worst way to do everything perfectly so that I won’t be judged for my diagnosis. In the past, my mistakes were pointed out to me and criticized fairly harshly, so now I criticize myself.  In my head.

Mistakes = humiliation + criticism = Shame (In the mind of a person with ADHD.)

Carolyn Gregoire, wrote an article for HuffPost that listed 14 Signs Your Perfectionism Has Gotten Out Of Control. <link> Naturally, I read the article so I could compare myself to these signs. What follows are some of the highlights and my analysis:

Perfectionists have a history of people-pleasing

I was always eager to please. As a child I told adults whatever I thought they wanted to hear. Never argued with teachers, parents, or anyone I interpreted as an authority figure.

Many children with ADHD are just the opposite, they can become oppositional and argumentative. My son is an excellent example of this. He argues just for the sake of argument.

I didn’t argue as a child, I just tuned everything out. Sometimes I still do. But more often than not I say “yes” when I should be saying “no.”  Why?

Because I am a big fat people pleaser looking for approval.

Are you a people pleaser?

Procrastination is common in perfectionists

Shocking! (Can you hear my sarcasm, here?) Fear of failure? Self-sabotage…fill in the blank.

Procrastination takes many forms. Often we don’t even realize we are doing it until we reach a critical point and start to panic.

Do you procrastinate?  You might want the read this post.

Perfectionists are critical of others

I used to be this way. The older I get the more I want to understand other people instead of criticizing them. In general, I don’t like to judge or hurt anyone’s feelings.

Although when I am watching a presidential debate I am the first to cry out, “what an idiot!”  But that cannot hurt their feelings because they can’t hear me.

People who know me in real life think I am a good listener. This strikes me as odd because it is hard to concentrate on conversations that I find uninteresting.

Are you critical of others? On t.v. or otherwise…

How to overcome perfectionism when you have adhd

Perfectionists have trouble opening up/sharing their feelings

Oh geez. I am so bad at talking about feelings. I mean epically bad. My husband could tell you stories about my inability to have difficult conversations. I love getting to know others but sharing myself is a weak spot.

I actually planned my wedding with as few witnesses as possible because I didn’t want to say “I love you” in front of people. If that’s not pathological I don’t know what is.

Do you have trouble opening up?

Ms. Gregoire’s article lists 14 signs. This is only 4 of them.

overcome perfectionism with adhdwhere do ADHD and perfectionism intersect?

According to the American Psychological Association there is a difference between “adaptive” perfectionism and “maladaptive” perfectionism. In other words you can be a perfectionists in a healthy way, or you can be a perfectionist in a very unhealthy way. <Link>

Examples of adaptive perfection exist in professional athletes and surgeons. I’m not gonna lie, if a surgeon is working on me I expect perfection. I am not concerned about a professional athlete unless their training impacts their physical or mental health in a negative way.

Unfortunately, perfectionism for me tends to be more maladaptive.

It would stand to reason that I am not alone in this – I know other women with ADHD who appear to be perfectionists and exhibit some of the traits I discussed above.

How is perfectionism maladaptive?

The APA article explains that when you start to believe that perfection is how you attain social acceptance – that is maladaptive behavior.

For example, if you put so much pressure on yourself to develop the perfect body and you go down the path of disordered eating – that is maladaptive.

I will confess I have been guilty of both of these maladaptive perfectionists tendencies in the past.No matter how much I learn about women and ADHD, I still suffer with this urge to force myself into being perfect. Achieving a perfect body, perfect home and perfect credit score will make my life infinitely more satisfying. Right?

Maybe, maybe not.

I have ADHD and I am a perfectionist.

I also refuse to spend time obsessing about my body and my life and how it compares to everyone else. Instead of focusing on perfection, which doesn’t exist, lets focus on self-improvement. Find the beauty in your own imperfections. Keep an open mind and an open heart.

Know that “good enough” really is enough. The only person you need to please is yoursNow tell me what do you think – Can a perfectionist also have ADHD?

Can you overcome perfectionism?

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  • Critical of others? Check. Rigid perfectionism? Double check (to the point where I sometimes have to physically push work off my desk in order to do the next task, or even eat a meal that I’ve been neglecting for hours!).

    Mindset has been huge for me. I still want to be perfect – but now I want to have the perfect day. And of course that means getting a certain amount of things off my schedule. Adopting the mindset of a schedule optimizer has helped me strike that balance 🙂

    • Liz

      Hi Sean! thank you for commenting! If you could teach me how to be a schedule optimizer you would be my new best friend. It’s so funny because people do not associate perfectionism with ADHD but it is unbelievably common. Hope you will stop by again.

      • Thanks Liz! Now that I think about it this would be a great idea for a blog post of my own. Keep up with the great thought-provoking articles, I’ll be sure to be around 🙂

  • Erin Hanson

    Great post! A lifetime of perfectionism is the reason I figured I couldn’t possibly have ADHD. The 2 were incompatible, right? Thank you for explaining why this is wrong.

    • Liz

      Hi Erin! Thank you for stopping by. I always thought the 2 were incompatible also. It never occurred to me that they were related until I started reading that book. All of a sudden it was so obvious! I am glad you liked the article.

  • RobinnGree

    This is so me! My psychiatrist diagnosed me with obsessive – compulsive personality disorder. It isn’t OCD but shows a need to control everything in my life. Of course, having ADHD makes this nearly impossible, as I’m sure you know! I won’t do many things because I know I won’t do them to my very high standards. I had a really horrible time with 6 weeks of very intense work training because I still haven’t mastered one of the apps. I normally learn new software quickly and easily but this time, I’m not doing well with it all! They still have to hold my hand whenever I have to use it! Very unusual and horribly embarrassing!! I also made a point of being the “good child” so my parents wouldn’t have problems with me, unlike my younger brother and sister. I tried to stay quietly in the background as much as possible. I thought that if I was extremely well-behaved, my parents wouldn’t get a divorce, but that didn’t work at all. I’m going to look at some of your article links, and especially the book. Thanks bunches!!

    • Liz

      Robinn- So glad you commented here, too! I started thinking seriously about perfectionism after hearing Dr. Bluestein speak. While reading her book I recognized the perfectionism issue in myself and was well..shocked. I didn’t get that it can and does often exist in women with ADHD. Isn’t it freeing to read about it in others and realize you are not alone? I’m so glad you identified with it. If you are interested..(not pushing) I have a small private Facebook group with a great circle of women who “get it”. Email me at HealthyADHD@gmail.com and I’ll add you.