Overcoming Perfectionism in Recovery

Perfectionism is a common characteristic trait for many people living with active addiction and those in recovery. It seems like a conflicting statement: the drive to be perfect but reliant on substance use as a coping mechanism.

In actuality, those in recovery or active addiction tend to hold themselves to incredibly high standards. In many cases, these standards are impossible to achieve, leaving one feeling defeated and leading to self destructive behaviors.

Perfectionism in recovery can look like this:

  • The irrational belief that you must be perfect in recovery
  • Being self-critical and the belief that no one can have imperfections, failings or weaknesses in recovery
  • Thinking of the way “things should be”
  • The negative thinking pattern of “if I am not perfect, I will fail and I will be rejected by others, I am not deserving of my recovery”
  • Fear of success: will I be able to keep up my goals of recovery? If I don’t I will disappoint my family and/or friends. Am I capable of keeping up my sobriety long term?
  • Rigid thinking: not allowing self to be human and make mistakes to grow
  • Believing no matter what I do in recovery it is not good enough.
  • Cognitive distortions: there are too many roadblocks keeping me from recovery, I might as well not try, it is too hard 
  • If I mess up in recovery than I should just give it all up; it is too hard to achieve
  • If I can’t do it right the first time, why do it at all?
  • I will never be able to change, so why try?

Rational thinking to overcome perfectionism in recovery includes the ability to:

  • Forgive oneself for mistakes
  • Put self back on the program when fall off
  • Set realistic time frames for goals
  • Recognize a slip is not failure but a set back
  • Seek understanding of self not blame
  • Reward yourself for achievements in recovery
  • Love yourself
  • Have self compassion and talk to yourself like you would a child
  • Acceptance of self, of the disease of addiction
  • Use thought stopping techniques to combat negative self talk
  • Realize you are successful even if you are not the best or perfect in recovery
  • Believe you deserve to be treated fairly by yourself
  • Drop all unrealistic expectations and desires to be perfect in recovery

Utilizing your support systems is helpful in overcoming perfectionism in recovery. By allowing others to give you a more realistic view, and having people who can recognize and reinforce you for any positive change no matter how slight can help you keep things in perspective. Most importantly, trust your support system to be open, honest, and sincere with you.


Harbor Village Recovery treatment specialists are here to help. Tell us a little bit about you or your loved one: