Perfectionism and ADHD? How does that go together? In my private practice, I work a lot with adult clients with ADHD. It does not matter if ADHD was diagnosed late in life, or early on in their childhood: A tendency for perfectionism is something I frequently notice and work on with my clients.
I usually like to explain that there is a complex relationship between ADHD and perfectionism. On one hand, some individuals with ADHD may struggle with perfectionism and wanting everything they do to be flawless, while on the other hand, others may struggle with procrastination and difficulty with completing tasks. These struggles seem to be on the opposite end of perfectionism, but are ironically connected to ADHD and perfectionism as a coping mechanism.
What is perfectionism?
Usually, perfectionism can be characterized as a personality trait that leads to setting impossibly high standards for oneself; people strive for flawless performance in all areas of life. While striving for excellence and having high standards can be positive traits, perfectionism can become problematic when it interferes with daily life and causes excessive stress or anxiety. It can sometimes also be problematic when people try to work on “perfectionism”, but are also afraid of failure if they’re not “perfect” anymore. There is a tendency to attribute their success to perfectionism instead of attributing it to their skills (that are there regardless if there’s perfectionism or not).
People who struggle with perfectionism may believe that they need to be perfect in order to be accepted or valued, and may be highly critical of themselves when they fall short of their expectations. There can often be a rigid mindset and people can be highly critical of others as well. They may have difficulty delegating tasks or asking for help, and may feel anxious or overwhelmed when things don’t go according to plan.
Perfectionists may engage in behaviors such as overworking, overthinking, and overanalyzing, which can interfere with their ability to complete tasks and achieve their goals. They may also experience feelings of guilt, shame, and self-doubt when they fail to meet their own high standards.
Perfectionism as a coping strategy
I see it in my work a lot that for individuals with ADHD, perfectionism can sometimes be a coping mechanism, a way to compensate for difficulties with attention and focus. By striving for perfection, individuals with ADHD may feel a greater sense of control over their environment and their abilities, and try to make up for procrastination and difficulty with completing tasks with delivering “perfect” results.
However, this can also lead to feelings of frustration, disappointment, and self-criticism when they inevitably fall short of their unrealistic and high expectations.
The pursuit of perfectionism can lead to negative consequences, such as increased anxiety, self-doubt, and burnout. Individuals with ADHD who struggle with perfectionism may find themselves engaging in behaviors such as overworking, overthinking, and overanalyzing, which can interfere with their ability to complete tasks and achieve their goals.
Perfectionism can also create a vicious cycle of self-criticism and negative self-talk. When individuals with ADHD set unrealistic standards for themselves and fail to meet them, they may experience feelings of shame, guilt, and self-doubt. This can lead to a negative cycle of perfectionism, in which the individual sets even higher standards to avoid the negative feelings associated with failure.
Strategies to combat perfectionism
It’s important for individuals with ADHD to recognize the role that perfectionism may be playing in their lives, and to seek support and strategies for managing it. Some strategies that may be helpful include setting realistic goals, practicing self-compassion, and focusing on progress rather than perfection.
Additionally, seeking support from a mental health professional who is experienced with ADHD can be beneficial in developing individual coping strategies and improving overall well-being. Perfectionism can usually be treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy, which involves identifying and challenging negative thought patterns and learning new coping strategies for managing anxiety and stress.
It is important to realize that sometimes good enough is just that – GOOD ENOUGH!
You can also view a short video of me explaining perfectionism here: https://www.instagram.com/reel/CqL0mitjl9R/?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=
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