How To Overcome Perfectionism With ADHD


woman looking hopeful and free

Believe it or not you can overcome perfectionism with ADHD.

I’ve done a startling amount of research on ADHD in women, and I’m particularly interested in how we can better manage our emotions.

This started out as a review of Dr. Jane Bluestein’s book, The Perfection Deception. I had a chance to hear Dr. Bluestein speak at my local JCC a couple years ago and was fascinated by the topic. So I bought her book.  (Affiliate. See my full disclosure.)


How to overcome perfectionism wth adhd


I have ADHD and I’m a perfectionist.

I just wanna put that out there and be completely up front.

Even at forty, I still struggle to get things done and try new things if I’m uncertain about the outcome. Perfectionism doesn’t go away, you just learn how to work through it.

The first step to healing is to embrace the imperfections while also noticing your strengths.

embrace  imperfection

Buddhists celebrate a philosophy called Wabi Sabi.

What the hell is wabi sabi?

According to this source , “wab sabi is an ancient aesthetic philosophy rooted in Zen Buddhism…celebrating the beauty in what is natural, including flaws.”

It’s easy to list out all the things you struggle with. It’s much more challenging to identify your strengths. As the expression goes, “You can’t see the whole picture when you’re inside the frame.”

Flaws are often the flip side of our strengths.

I’m often a few minutes late for meetings, and I’m also a really engaged listener.

I struggle to organize my own thoughts, and I can easily intuit the emotions of others and what they need from me.

This is an exercise in acknowledging the facts. Yes, AND.

There is power seeing the whole picture of who you are. You don’t have to be so afraid to make mistakes.

Make Mistakes

More than anything, “perfectionists are rigid”, according to Dr. Adrian Furnham. <link>

Furnham explains that perfectionists believe, “their acceptance and lovability is a function of never making mistakes…it’s all or nothing.”

ADHD women can be very rigid when they are trying to overcompensate. We also use a lot of black and white, reductive thinking.

As a person with ADHD you take mistakes hard. You want to do everything perfectly so that you won’t be judged for the diagnosis.

Dr. Russ Ramsay talks about two different types of perfectionism in his book. (see my full disclosure.)

Front end perfectionism makes it hard for you to get started.

Back end perfectionism makes it difficult for you to finish.

Both types of perfectionism are grounded in the belief that you have to overcompensate for what you think are your flaws.

If you’ve made mistakes in the past that led to negative consequences, you will avoid those feelings of shame and humiliation at any cost.

Unfortunately, when we try to be perfect we tend to bend ourselves to the will of other people.


As a child I told adults whatever I thought they wanted to hear. I never argued with teachers, parents, or anyone I interpreted as an authority figure.

Many children with ADHD are just the opposite, they can become oppositional and argumentative. My son is an excellent example of this. He argues just for the sake of argument.

It feels easier and safer to say yes every time someone asks you for something. But in the long-term you will feel resentful. And the person you said it to will feel your resentment one way or another.

Why do you say YES, when you should say NO?

Because like me, you’re a big fat people pleaser looking for approval. And you need boundaries.

You might notice that you also feel more critical of others.

you criticize others

The older I get the more I want to understand other people.  Most of the time I don’t judge the actions or inactions of others. But when I’m under stress, my thoughts can turn ugly.

I’ve caught myself questioning people’s intentions more than once on Instagram.

When we criticize someone else, it’s usually because they’ve triggered some insecurity in us.

These situations are an opportunity for you to do a gut check.

What is it about this person that’s triggering me? 

Negative energy breeds negative energy. Deflecting it onto others will only work temporarily.

You need to find better options to manage your emotions.

share Your feelings

When I was teaching I used to encourage my students to share their stories. There’s something healing about getting it out and sharing it with another human.

In the Enclave, sharing our stories is the cornerstone of our Peer Coaching.

But not everyone is so comfortable talking about feelings. You might be afraid that if you talk about what your feeling the facade you’ve so carefully crafted will collapse.

Your persona may collapse, but people want to know the real YOU more than the facade.

Do you have trouble opening up?

If so, you might be a perfectionist in hiding.

where do ADHD and perfectionism intersect?

According to the American Psychological Association there is a difference between “adaptive” perfectionism and “maladaptive” perfectionism. In other words you can be a perfectionists in a healthy way, or you can be a perfectionist in a very unhealthy way. <Link>

Examples of adaptive perfection exist in professional athletes and surgeons. I’m not gonna lie, if a surgeon is working on me I expect perfection.

Unfortunately, perfectionism for me tends to be more maladaptive.

It would stand to reason that I am not alone in this – I know other women with ADHD who appear to be perfectionists and exhibit some of the traits I discussed above.

How is perfectionism maladaptive?

The APA article explains that when you start to believe that perfection is how you attain social acceptance – that is maladaptive behavior.

If you put so much pressure on yourself to develop the perfect body and you go down the path of disordered eating – that is maladaptive.

No matter how much I learn about ADHD women, I still suffer with this urge to force myself into being perfect. Achieving a perfect body, perfect home, and perfect credit score will make my life infinitely more satisfying. Right?

Maybe, maybe not.

I have ADHD and I’m a perfectionist.

Instead of focusing on perfection, which doesn’t exist, lets focus on self-awareness.

Find the beauty in your own imperfections. Keep an open mind and an open heart.

Know that “good enough” really is enough. The only person you need to please is yourself.

Now tell me what do you think – Can you overcome perfectionism?

Wanna talk to other women who get it?

Join the ADHD Enclave!

I’ve gathered a brilliant group of women to tell our stories, manage our emotions, and create the changes that lead to calmer, more satisfying lives with ADHD. 



Support the cause without the commitment.

9 comments on “How To Overcome Perfectionism With ADHD

  1. Critical of others? Check. Rigid perfectionism? Double check (to the point where I sometimes have to physically push work off my desk in order to do the next task, or even eat a meal that I’ve been neglecting for hours!).

    Mindset has been huge for me. I still want to be perfect – but now I want to have the perfect day. And of course that means getting a certain amount of things off my schedule. Adopting the mindset of a schedule optimizer has helped me strike that balance 🙂

    • Hi Sean! thank you for commenting! If you could teach me how to be a schedule optimizer you would be my new best friend. It’s so funny because people do not associate perfectionism with ADHD but it is unbelievably common. Hope you will stop by again.

  2. Great post! A lifetime of perfectionism is the reason I figured I couldn’t possibly have ADHD. The 2 were incompatible, right? Thank you for explaining why this is wrong.

    • Hi Erin! Thank you for stopping by. I always thought the 2 were incompatible also. It never occurred to me that they were related until I started reading that book. All of a sudden it was so obvious! I am glad you liked the article.

  3. This is so me! My psychiatrist diagnosed me with obsessive – compulsive personality disorder. It isn’t OCD but shows a need to control everything in my life. Of course, having ADHD makes this nearly impossible, as I’m sure you know! I won’t do many things because I know I won’t do them to my very high standards. I had a really horrible time with 6 weeks of very intense work training because I still haven’t mastered one of the apps. I normally learn new software quickly and easily but this time, I’m not doing well with it all! They still have to hold my hand whenever I have to use it! Very unusual and horribly embarrassing!! I also made a point of being the “good child” so my parents wouldn’t have problems with me, unlike my younger brother and sister. I tried to stay quietly in the background as much as possible. I thought that if I was extremely well-behaved, my parents wouldn’t get a divorce, but that didn’t work at all. I’m going to look at some of your article links, and especially the book. Thanks bunches!!

    • Robinn- So glad you commented here, too! I started thinking seriously about perfectionism after hearing Dr. Bluestein speak. While reading her book I recognized the perfectionism issue in myself and was well..shocked. I didn’t get that it can and does often exist in women with ADHD. Isn’t it freeing to read about it in others and realize you are not alone? I’m so glad you identified with it. If you are interested..(not pushing) I have a small private Facebook group with a great circle of women who “get it”. Email me at and I’ll add you.

  4. Thank you so much Liz. I just want to say first and foremost, everything you discribed is an everyday uphill battle for myself. I constantly am trying to please others just to feel wanted, accepted, and not like a blooming idiot for not being able to complete certain tasks. I can remember being a child and feeling alienated from the other kids and just trying to fit in. I was labeled as the class clown and no one wanted anything to do with me. They thought I dressed and talked weird. I even hate being called weird now because it just takes me back to my childhood of feeling isolated. My only friend was a tree. The rest felt like forced play dates my mother had arranged. I have a fond memory of my sixth grade teacher who’s daughter was diagnosed with ADHD handing my mother a pamphlet for ADHD at a parent teacher conference. Before then at the end of the school year, my fifth grade teacher took me to the front of the class and explained to everyone how even though I am such a goofball and a silly girl there is a much more sensitive, intuitive person hidden underneath the surface. It was an emotional moment and I broke down crying in front of the class. Eventually it was forgotten and I was just labeled as lazy and ditzy my not only my parents, but teachers as well. This went into my teens and I eventually ended up in high school with no one around me, failing grades and major depression. I socialized more during these periods but just ended up isolating myself. I am only in my early 20’s and have managed to leave many jobs and good opportunities I have gotten due to getting bored when a boss tells me how I am the best at what I do or if I am criticized constantly I get overwhelmed with anxiety and flustered. This also happens with everyday tasks and I just cannot concentrate since I can’t stop thinking about the consequences of if I fail. And if I do it perfect I am bored and just want to find another task. Something to get my mind off of the stress of being an adult with everything disorganized and not being able to focus as much as those without my illness. It made me very envious of others just wishing I could truly stick to something. Perfectionism and ADHD is so hard to live with. I want those who understand this to know they are not alone, because that is how I felt reading this. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I am forever grateful I found this post.

    • Thank you so much for commenting!
      Perfectionism seems to be an ongoing topic for so many of us.
      Have you joined our Facebook group?
      We try to support each other and work through some of this stuff on there.
      Let me know.

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