Break Free from Perfectionism to Take on Fear and Anxiety

See fear through the eyes of a perfectionist and decode how to deal with this emotion directly with five simple steps to manage and conquer anxiety.

  • facing fear perfectionist
    Fear can be an unpleasant emotion for perfectionists to experience, often times being spun into disastrous scenarios that take away the joy of being in the present.
    Photo by Getty Images/sturti
  • Perfection Detox cover
    “The Perfection Detox” by Petra Kobler is a guide to help women break free from the negative impacts of perfectionism with twenty-one steps to live life freely without the worry of failing to meet unrealistic expectations.
    Cover courtesy Da Capo Lifelong Books

  • facing fear perfectionist
  • Perfection Detox cover

In The Perfection Detox: Tame Your Inner Critic, Live Bravely, and Unleash Your Joy, Petra Kolber helps readers alleviate the unhealthy and unrealistic demands we put on ourselves. Tackle perfectionist impulses and live a joyful life with strategies to channel our internal resources, willpower, and rituals. The following excerpt is from Chapter 4, "Decipher Fear."

For perfectionists, fear is a special, multifaceted adversary. Even though it's just one unpleasant emotion, we find so many ways to spin it in our very own kaleidoscope of catastrophe. There's the fear of being found out, the fear of not doing something perfectly, the fear of saying the wrong thing, the fear of making a mistake, the fear of a less than ideal outcome, the fear of [__________] (insert the one that just came to mind as you were reading this).

Because the scenarios we envision are usually idealized and out of scale, that is, disproportionate to reality, disappointment is as predictable as it is crushing. For the perfectionist, this tendency makes fulfillment or joy — which requires being in the present — especially elusive. The present slips through our fingers as we ponder the mistakes of the past and try to preempt missteps in the future. Over time, we resign ourselves to thinking that nothing will ever be just right and retreat into passivity, as the concrete fear of a future misstep will always override the abstract loss of an opportunity glaring at us in the present.

In this way, fear is a thief, stealing from us memories, connection, and any sort of eagerness or even willingness to try new experiences. And because it can generate generalized anxiety as a byproduct, fear can also be debilitating, humiliating, and demoralizing.

Many people propose that the best way to deal with fear is to get rid of it. But this is a biological impossibility — we were born with the ability to fear, and there are times when we need the reflexive internal response it triggers, times even when our lives depend upon it. We can't deny it, we can't get rid of it, but we can work to understand fear and identify when it's useful or warranted and when it's not. If mastered, this understanding will provide you with one of the most liberating experiences of the detox.

The Key to Making Peace: Your Presence

When a perfectionist feels fear she sees it as more proof that she is not handling her life perfectly. Viewed as another flaw, fear is pushed away into the background, which gives it more negative power. Avoidance of anything only adds more fuel to the situation. If we are to reach a truce with our fears or develop a useful degree of understanding and compassion, we have to show up to the peace talks.

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