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Perfectionism and ADHD: What You Might Not Know

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

Individuals with ADHD might often struggle with cognitively-related mistakes such as misplacing personal items, missing appointments or forgetting to respond to texts. So how could someone with ADHD also be a perfectionist? Perfectionistic traits can show up in many forms, such as procrastinating, having unattainable expectations for self and others, a fear of making mistakes and frequently focusing on what other people might think. These aspects of perfectionism might feel more familiar.


I’m currently making my way through Atlas of the Heart by Brené Brown. Her section on Perfectionism really caught my attention since I often notice these traits in the people I work with. Perfectionism is also something I’ve struggled with, and her words really resonated with me. She writes:


“Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because there is no such thing as perfection. Perfection is an unattainable goal. Additionally, perfectionism is more about perception – we want to be perceived as perfect. Again, this is unattainable – there is no way to control perception, regardless of how much time and energy we spend trying.”


Pretty strong words.


What I’ve found interesting in learning more about this is how perfectionism can cause the opposite of our intentions to be true. Perfectionistic thinking tricks us into believing that the more perfect we are, the more we’ll be accepted. However, it in fact does the opposite by creating distance between ourselves and others, reducing our ability to connect deeply and authentically, and often contributes to feelings of anxiousness, loneliness and depression. The fear of failure or of making a mistake stops us from trying new things, from getting started on important projects, and from being vulnerable. And it wears us down, eats at our sense of worth and essentially keeps us stuck. Brené Brown refers to “life paralysis”, a term that describes missed opportunities due to fear of mistake makings or potential failure. This experience can be really painful, and shining a light on this experience might be the first step to stepping away from perfectionistic thinking.


So what can you do about it? Well, there’s no one cure for perfectionistic thinking or traits. Some tools that can be helpful include cognitive behavioural therapy to challenge perfectionistic thinking patterns, as well as developing a practice of self-compassion when encountering difficulties. The latter can be practiced like this:

1. This is a moment of discomfort/pain/suffering.

2. Everyone feels this way sometimes.

3. May I be kind/compassionate/patience/loving towards myself.


This often feels uncomfortable at the start, but as with anything, the more your practice the easier it becomes. Dr. Kristin Neff offers many great resources on developing a self-compassion practice: https://self-compassion.org/. Exploring core values and beliefs about yourself can be helpful, and having access to support to challenge these beliefs is recommended.


Pushing back against the perfectionistic voice is often not easy to do, and it can take time and practice to change these thoughts. But you are worth changing for so that you can spend more time enjoying your life and less energy focusing on what others might think. As always, I’m here to support you, answer any questions you might have and to share resources you might find helpful. I can be reached at erinspencerot@gmail.com. I look forward to connecting.

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