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November 6, 2013
by Shamrock Counselling, MA, RCC

Perfectionism and the Courage to be Imperfect

November 6, 2013 02:55 by Shamrock Counselling, MA, RCC

In his article, Michael Formica (2009) examines how perfectionism and the unwillingness to be wrong “deflects our potential evolution” and often leads to “a kind of social paralysis”. Formica describes that if an individual is constantly focused on making the right decision, he or she will “derail their momentum”. This derailment sometimes leads the individual to an emotional place of indecision or fear.  The willingness to be wrong, or as Formica calls it, the courage to be imperfect allows individuals the opportunity to discover many things about themselves. Formica likens the inability to exercise this courage to putting oneself into a straitjacket, restraining oneself to a set pattern of behavior and actions.

So what makes a perfectionist?

Michael Cohen (2010) posits that there are 6 main traits of perfectionists:

1.       All Or Nothing Thinking – Perfectionists tend to see situations in absolute polar categories (black/white, right/wrong). A common mistaken thought of perfectionists is “I must be the best or I am nothing”.

2.       Mental Filter – Since perfectionists often hone in on negative details, their perception of themselves and reality becomes distorted.

3.       Discounting the Positive – Relating directly to a perfectionist’s distorted idea of themselves and reality, when a perfectionist does accomplish something, he or she tells themselves that “it doesn’t count”.

4.       Mind Reading – Individuals who are perfectionists often have the erroneous belief that others are thinking or reacting negatively, even though there is no real evidence to support this idea.

5.       Fortune Telling – Perfectionists often foresee that situations will go badly with potentially serious consequences.

6.       Emotional Reasoning – When reasoning, perfectionists utilize how they feel instead of the reality of the situation.

Developing the Courage to be Imperfect

Like mindfulness, the courage to be imperfect teaches individuals to focus on the present time rather than worry about what has happened in the past. Some points to consider:

1.       Individuals should be encouraged, not expected, to pursue perfection. We should promote environments where acceptance and encouragement are championed instead of competition.

2.       It is better to have the desire to be useful than the desire for self-elevation. The latter is often accompanied by the constant fear of making mistakes.

3.       Mistakes are not failures. Mistakes are aids to learning.

4.       Too many human relationships are fault-finding and mistake-centered.

5.       Mistakes are unavoidable and, in most cases, less important than what the individual does after they have made a mistake.

6.       Develop a sense of personal self worth and strength.

7.       Develop the courage to cope with the challenges of living.

“We have to learn the art, and to realize that we are good enough as we because we will never be better regardless of how much more we may know, how much more skill we may acquire, how much status or money or what-have-you. If we can’t make peace with ourselves as we are, we will never be able to make peace with ourselves. And this requires the courage to be imperfect; requires the realization that I am no angel, that I am not superhuman, that I make mistakes, that I have faults; but I am pretty good because I don’t have to be better than the others.” – Rudolf Dreikurs, MD

By: Stephanie Ng, MCP, RCC (778.288.2008)


Cohen, M.  (2010).  Having The Courage To Be Imperfect.  Retrieved from

Formica, M.  J.  (2009).  The Courage to Be Imperfect.  Psychology Today.  Retrieved from


About the Author

Shamrock Counselling Shamrock Counselling, MA, RCC, CBEIP, NAEFW

We believe the counselling should be an essential service and are committed to helping people find ways to access resources. We take the time to walk you through the process to find the best fit and suit your needs.

Shamrock Counselling can be found at
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