A circle with eight steps to help you heal from underachieving and perfectionism.

Emotional Healing from Underachieving and Perfectionism

Have you ever met someone who, on the surface, appeared to have it all together and was busy doing many things, but when you looked at their life as a whole, they had many unfinished projects? It could be the woman who has been engaged to be married at least four times, or the man who jumps from career to career just as it is starting to take off. 

These people aren’t unintelligent. 

In fact, they are highly intelligent. 

They or perhaps you, has yet to heal properly from old emotional wounds.

As a life coach for business owners, I have witnessed countless ways in which past trauma sabotages our present success. 

In this article, we will discuss what underachieving and perfectionism look like and how to heal from them.

How do you become an underachiever yet suffer from perfectionism?

As I mentioned earlier, unresolved trauma can create this weird combination of underachieving and perfectionism.

You might wonder, “How does that even make sense?” Here’s how it unfolds:

When a significant part of your life is marred by adverse events beyond your control, you tend to create exceedingly high standards for yourself and those around you. 

The quest for near-perfection becomes your modus operandi, stemming from the tight grip of fear and shame on your psyche.

Seeking constant reassurances becomes a norm to pacify these relentless emotions.

What trauma-based perfectionism looks like.

  • Can’t focus during the day or sleep soundly through the night because you are wondering if you made a mistake
  • Overanalyze, triple-check, and extensively research everything.
  • Every decision is weighed with meticulous consideration, often leading to a paralyzing fear of taking risks.

At the end of the day, you may feel no more confident than when you began, grappling with a persistent discouragement about your prospects and harboring deep-seated fears about your ability to succeed.

After the perfectionism, comes the underachieving 

Consequently, you settle. 

You settle for lackluster jobs, relationships that are far from fulfilling, for years, even decades. 

Underachievement and the insatiable quest for perfection can be relentless adversaries, don’t you think?

This is a part of the “Don’t Feel” life script that leads you to be so fact-based that your true emotions are relegated to the backseat of your desires and reality.

If you are feeling a bit unnerved from this, take heart. There is a way out from this self-imposed misery. In the next section, I will discuss eight tips to help you heal from underachieving and perfectionism.

A woman holding up a sign that says " if you consistently tell yourself things like " i 'm not good enough or " i can never do

Eight (8) Tips to Help You Heal 

1. Track back to the source of the pain

Understanding the root cause of your perfectionist tendencies and feelings of underachievement is crucial because as humans’ we desire resolution, and it often requires repetition. Hence, you may find yourself spending hours, years, or even decades trying to “fix” a person or problem to no avail. Moreover, the problems you see come from within your mind, not from outside.

To understand the pain, you should reflect on past experiences, traumas, or influential events that might have contributed to your current mindset.

Ask yourself these questions to help identify the source of the pain: 

  • What was one of the most painful experiences you ever had? 
  • Who was involved? 
  • How old were you? (Research proves that the most traumatic experience biologically happens before puberty). 
  • What exactly happened? And how did your life change after the trauma?

2. Examine how your demonstration/example was unhelpful to everyone, especially you

Reflect on the models or figures that have influenced your perception of achievement and perfection. Sometimes, the examples set by significant individuals in your life might have been unrealistic or overly demanding.

I know that Sandra, my father’s ex-lover, profoundly influenced me. She was a mean drunk who was quick to remind everyone around her of their shortcomings. Although I knew her words were harmful, I unconsciously accepted them as a “normal” way to relate to others.

Are you perpetuating harmful messages with others now? In what ways are they causing harm to you and others?

Acknowledging that these models were detrimental and understanding their impact on your self-image can be a critical step toward change.

3. Dismantle the idea of perfection. It doesn’t exist

We all need a standard or benchmark by which to assess the merit of our work, and that is good. However, for some of us, the desire for perfection comes from the fear of the discomfort that comes with failure and the reality that things and people, including ourselves, may fall short. This mindset can cost us our mental health and overall physical wellness.

We need a better standard – one that recognizes that the concept of perfection is unattainable and subjective. Embracing imperfection and understanding that everyone makes mistakes are fundamental parts of growth. 

Shifting our focus from achieving perfection to striving for personal progress can alleviate the pressure and self-criticism associated with unattainable standards.

4. Create standards that align with you and your current life

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be great at math. My brothers and father were good at math, so I thought I should be too. However, my math and science grades said otherwise.

Some of us have standards that are completely unrealistic. We adopt standards that don’t belong to us, which are a complete mismatch to our strengths, temperament, interests, and lifestyle. Now is the time to change things up.

Take the time to set realistic and personally meaningful standards that reflect your present circumstances and goals. By aligning expectations with what’s feasible and relevant to your current situation, you can alleviate the pressure to meet unrealistic benchmarks set by external influences.

By focusing on your own potential and not comparing yourself to others, you can achieve success on your own terms. Remember that everyone’s journey is unique, and there is no right or wrong way to achieve your goals. By setting achievable and relevant standards, you are more likely to succeed and feel fulfilled in the process.

Underachievers are the hardest-working people you will ever meet! They work tirelessly to convince everyone, including themselves, that they cannot reach their near-impossible, perfectionistic standard.

5. End the vicious cycle of self-pity and blame

The idea of ending self-pity and blame is worthy of an article in itself. Indeed, if you wish to learn how to be more resilient, you should read this article. However, for the purpose of this piece, I will condense it to the notion that if you want to heal from unrealistic standards that arise from perfectionism, you need to abandon the vicious dependence on self-pity.

At first, self-pity can be helpful, as it diverts personal responsibility and attributes blame to others. However, you are the executive producer, architect, and director of your life. You must now ask yourself how to take responsibility for your actions and emotions without judgment.

We should not beat ourselves up for mistakes or shortcomings, but rather learn to use them to improve our lives. This may pose a challenge if the people around you model victimhood, but developing self-efficacy skills will help you achieve success.

6. Up your self-compassion

Developing self-compassion is crucial in healing from underachievement and perfectionism. For you or someone you know, you may be more accustomed to treating yourself worse than your enemy would treat you.

There is a constant nagging voice within yourself reminding you that your worth is tied to your accomplishments and that you don’t deserve things unless you provide value, receive acknowledgments, and praise. The societal conditioning runs deep.

Now is the time to turn down the volume on that negative noise. It is time to treat yourself with kindness and understanding, especially in moments of self-doubt or perceived failure. Your worth is not measured by anyone. You have worth in and of yourself.

7. Stop playing games with your mental health

Someone you know is playing games with their mental health. They spend lots of hours on social media, comparing their follower count to others. Or perhaps, they constantly wonder if they need to put in 100+ hours each week so that they can finally hit those $50k+ months. 

Others may think that they can spring into action and accommodate anyone because they don’t want to be seen as “unhelpful.” 

It is time to stop the madness!

Placing self-imposed pressure or unrealistic expectations is risking your mental health. Now is the time to prioritize your mental well-being by setting healthy boundaries, seeking support when needed, and practicing self-care habits.

8. Get accountability

Reading articles like this from my blog is awesome, and my private clients have access to this and many other resources to help them with self-study. However, reading alone and being a committee of one is not the way to heal properly. As humans, we are relational creatures in need of people – yes, that is plural – to help us heal. 

Enter accountability. When you have someone who knows you and your issues, they can provide guidance, support, and hold you accountable, which can be invaluable in your journey toward overcoming underachievement and perfectionism. 

The work is ongoing

By implementing the eight steps mentioned above, you can gradually heal from the detrimental effects of underachieving and perfectionism and cultivate a healthier, more balanced approach to personal and professional success. The image below summarizes my thoughts. 

In the next section, I will share my final thoughts.

A circle with eight steps to help you heal from underachieving and perfectionism.

Final Thoughts 

It takes time to heal from this problem, but you can do it. To start, we need to stop thinking that we must be perfect and instead be kinder to ourselves. Then we can begin to heal and love ourselves. 

If you need help, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I believe you can heal if you want to. 

Also, check out this episode from my podcast to learn more about healing from perfectionism.