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Buddhist Psychology Treatment Plan for Perfectionism

Nan Tien Temple Buddha among the lotus plantsIf perfectionism is a form of hunger (for approval/validation, reflection/attention, control/certainty), then how can we satisfy this hunger, how can we feed it?  The answer is: with the bread of acceptance!

Borrowing the language of the four noble truths from Buddhist psychology, I offer the following treatment (“self-feeding”) plan:

  1. The experience of reality as imperfect (i.e. dissatisfaction with reality the way it is) exists and is inevitable;
  2. The source of this suffering/dissatisfaction is a desire or an expectation for reality to be different from how it is, to be better than it is; i.e. the source of perfectionistic suffering is the striving to perfect what is;
  3. Perfectionism can be helped through the acceptance of the reality for what it is, in its perfectly imperfect suchness.

How’s this acceptance achieved?

The short answer is: by a) redefining the meaning of perfection and b) through mindful living (as a consciously-chosen philosophy of living) that allows you to recognize the ordinary perfection of what is.

The long answer is a curriculum of experiential precedents that I detailed in my 2010 book, Present Perfect.

As for redefining perfection, it is a matter of two paths – one dualistic and the other non-dualistic.  The first, dualistic,  strategy allows you to shift from a state-view of perfection to a dynamic/process-view of perfection – a relatively straightforward process that is easy to read about but requires a certain experiential homework to sink in.  The second, non-dualistic, strategy for reframing perfection is more nuanced: it completely collapses the distinction between perfection and imperfection.

Related: 3 Types of Perfectionistic Hunger

Resources: Present Perfect: a Mindfulness Approach to Letting Go (Somov, New Harbinger, 2010)

Creative Commons License photo credit: dorofofoto

Buddhist Psychology Treatment Plan for Perfectionism

Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

Pavel Somov, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice and the author of 7 mindfulness-based self-help books. Several of his books have been translated into Chinese, Dutch & Portuguese. Somov is on the Advisory Board for the Mindfulness Project (London, UK). Somov has conducted numerous workshops on mindfulness-related topics and appeared on a number of radio programs. Somov's book website is and his practice website is

Marla Somova, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Pittsburgh, PA. She is the co-author of "Smoke Free Smoke Break" (2011).

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APA Reference
Somov, P. (2012). Buddhist Psychology Treatment Plan for Perfectionism. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 21, 2019, from


Last updated: 17 Nov 2012
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 17 Nov 2012
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