Peace with Imperfection

February 12, 2024
Alyssa Elizabeth Jennings

Alyssa Elizabeth Jennings

In today's society, the idea of perfection has immense power over all of us. It guides our beauty standards, lifestyles and, most of all, our mental health. The pressure to appear perfect is corrosive to happiness. John Kelly, a Penn Medicine physician, wrote, “Creativity, joy, inspiration, and even productivity is stunted when perfection is the only option.” This mindset causes perfectionists to be more at risk for developing a host of negative outcomes. This idea is seen in a study conducted by King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, finding that perfectionism is involved in the “development and maintenance of a range of disorders including depression, anxiety, EDs and body dysmorphic disorder,  (Lloyd et al., 2014).

Perfectionism arises from insecurity and low self-esteem. It often tricks us into believing that it's a helpful tool when in reality, it can cause us to feel more depressed and anxious. Brené Brown, author and research professor at the University of Houston, wrote, “Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield.” Perfectionists are more likely to suffer from life paralysis, a term that describes the avoidance of opportunities in which the result might be imperfect. Kelly and Brown both admit to being recovering perfectionists themselves. This observation serves to remind us that anyone can struggle with these feelings of insecurity and fear.

As a perfectionist, I have always struggled with insecurity surrounding my interpersonal relationships. In the past, I would have done anything to be perfect for anybody rather than be my true authentic self. Akin to what Brown said, I would have rather wasted my time and energy on trying to force the perception that “I live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect” for everyone in my life, rather than face the fact that I am not perfect. This mindset caused me to struggle with my self-worth as I continued to attempt the impossible task of achieving perfection. Kelly describes this feeling by explaining that perfectionists often believe that any error is a reflection of a perfectionist's defectiveness (Kelly, 2015).

So, how do we change our thinking? Kristin Neff, an associate professor in the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Educational Psychology, presents research on self-compassion as a way to make peace with imperfection. Self-compassion is the practice of self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.

  • Self-kindness is defined as “being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we
    suffer, fail or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism."
  • Common humanity is the idea of accepting that as humans, we are all struggling with
    these feelings of imperfection and we are not alone.
  • Mindfulness is the practice of allowing yourself to identify your negative feelings
    without getting “caught up and swept away by negative reactivity".

These three components of self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness will lead to the development of self-compassion and a future full of love for yourself.

In my experience, practicing self-compassion is not unlike the practice of any other skill. It takes time, dedication and patience. For example, I started a new job this past summer. As a perfectionist, I had high expectations for myself. After a few weeks of starting this new position, feelings of inadequacy began to set in when I still needed to ask for help or when I made mistakes. My initial response was to give up. If I couldn’t be perfect, what was the point? Luckily, utilizing the tools of self-compassion, I was able to pull myself back to reality and ground myself. Starting with mindfulness, I acknowledged my feelings and where they came from, but I didn’t let them continue to control me. I practiced self-kindness by telling myself that making mistakes and asking for help does not make me weak. It takes real courage to admit one's faults, and even more to ask for help. I also practiced common humanity by thinking of all of the people I have helped in the past. I did not see them as weak for asking for help or making a mistake because they are only human. Another example of something that has helped me practice self-compassion is Brown’s term “good-enoughist.” When I catch myself slipping into a perfectionist streak, I remind myself that I am now a good-enoughist. As a good-enoughist, I now tell myself that I live good enough, look good enough and act good enough. Are you ready to feel like you’re good enough?

Alyssa Elizabeth Jennings: is a senior studying kinesiology in the College of Health and Human Sciences with a minor in psychology. After graduation, she hopes to attend a physical therapy program where she can continue her education with the goal of becoming a physical therapist. Jennings has also been an active member of the Ann Tweedale Cooperative House for four years. She enjoys music, working as a rehabilitation aide at Athletico and spending time with her friends and family.


1. Brown, B. (2022). The Gifts of Imperfection. Hazelden Publishing.

2. Kelly, J. D. (2015, October). Your best life: Perfectionism--the bane of happiness. Clinical orthopaedics and related research.

3.London School of Economics, L. S. of E. (2021). The problem with perfection. LSE Research.