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Overcoming Perfectionism: Finding the Key to Balance and Self-Acceptance by Ann W. Smith


Ann Smith’s revised and updated edition of Overcoming Perfectionism is a useful guide for people suffering from perfectionism in all its forms and even for family members who are affected by the perfectionist in their lives. Smith’s easy-to-read book explains everything from the differences between overt and covert perfectionism, to the roots of these issues and the reasons why childhood attachment can play an important role in the development of perfectionist traits. The inspiring stories, enlightening survey results and encouraging advice given every step of the way by Smith is what makes the second edition of Overcoming Perfectionism a definite must-read book. 

It is not unnatural to want to strive to be the best. However, it can become a problem when the need for absolute perfection takes over a person’s life. The perfectionist, whether overt or covert, is a slave to the compulsion of perfectionism; it is the unconscious need to control, to seem perfect and to succeed that defines the problem of perfectionism. 

Each chapter in Overcoming Perfectionism deals with an important aspect of the perfection problem. Smith outlines possible causes and roots of perfectionism in childhood, how to identify perfectionism, the problems that can arise from striving toward that impossible goal and how to change behavior so that living outside of that perfection is a possibility. The chapters all conclude with a summary that helps readers understand the takeaway points so they begin to help themselves. Smith’s updated book is full of in-depth examples of the kinds of perfectionism that can occur as well as what it means to be a perfectionist going through various aspects of life. 

Smith tackles perfectionism and how it relates to recovery from addiction. She tells the story of Sam, a chemically dependent son of two alcoholic parents. He joined a Twelve-Step program, completed steps and did service work to the best of his ability while working with a sponsor. He meditated at home and researched what he could to get the most out of his recovery experience. However, eight months later Sam relapsed. His perfectionism was not enough to keep him from dealing with the real issues at hand that contributed to his addiction. By doing what Sam thought he needed to do to be perfect and recover from addiction, Smith writes that he was unable to “begin the internal process that is required for lasting results.” Smith helps readers understand that more often than not, perfectionism is used as a means to cover up deep internal issues and avoid them.  

Smith’s guide to understanding perfectionism provides self-tests, examples of perfectionism in different circumstances, in-depth stories about real people who sought help for these problems and testimony from Smith herself about her own struggles. The stories about Dan’s need for extreme business at work to drown out the “committee” of critical voices in his mind, Barbara’s constant focus on pleasing and helping everyone but herself and Smith’s own childhood of loneliness and not feeling “good enough” all contribute to the message that Smith sends: Perfectionism can be overcome and that it is okay to get help in order for that to happen. 

In this second edition, Smith changes terms such as alcoholic family to painful family in an effort to open up the dialogue about perfectionism to a wider range of people. Smith notes that “clinical professionals no longer consider the alcoholic family to be unique in its effect on individuals,” which leads to the expansion of this new edition of Overcoming Perfectionism to include all kinds of painful family situations that can lead to perfection issues. 

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