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. 



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