How Perfectionism Can Hinder Healing from Unhealthy Relationships

By Stephanie McPhail, MS.

Picture yourself standing before a canvas, paintbrush in hand, ready to create a masterpiece that perfectly captures the essence of your life. Every stroke, every color choice feels like it must be precise, flawless. But here’s the thing about masterpieces—they’re often born from chaos, from the unexpected drips and the colors that blend in ways you never planned. This is the very essence of healing from an unhealthy relationship, especially when the artist holding the brush is a perfectionist.

What’s wrong with being a perfectionist?

Being a perfectionist can feel like a superpower in many areas of life. It drives you to excel, to push beyond limits, and often, to succeed in ways others only dream of. Yet, when it comes to healing from a relationship that’s left you scarred, this trait can morph into your kryptonite.

What should I expect when trying to heal after a toxic relationship?

Let’s talk about expectations—those sneaky benchmarks we set not only for ourselves but for our partners too. Realistic expectations can be healthy. They help us navigate life with a sense of direction and purpose. But when we start setting the bar unrealistically high, especially after a toxic relationship, we’re setting the stage for disappointment.

Healing isn’t about achieving perfection in how we move on or how quickly we can ‘get over it’. It’s about giving ourselves the grace to stumble, to feel every emotion that comes our way, and to understand that being okay isn’t a linear process. Remember, the person you’re healing for? That’s you. And you deserve compassion, not comparison to an unattainable standard.

Why is healing sometimes messy?

Acknowledging that healing is messy is another step towards genuine recovery. It’s like trying to clean up a glitter spill—you find bits of sparkle in unexpected places long after the fact. Healing from a toxic relationship can be similar. Some days you feel like you’ve got it all together; other days, something as simple as a song on the radio can unravel you. And that’s okay. Perfectionism whispers that if we’re not doing something flawlessly, we’re not doing it right. But healing? It defies that logic. It’s in the messiness, the unpredictability of healing, that we often find our truest selves and our strongest voices.

Life, in its very nature, is imperfect. Holding ourselves and our partners to an idealized vision of what we think life ‘should’ be only leads to frustration. The truth is, life’s beauty often lies in its imperfections. It’s in the burnt toast mornings, the missed appointments, and the plans that go awry where we find laughter, growth, and sometimes, the most profound connections with others.

How can perfectionism be harmful?

The narrative that perfectionism tries to sell us—that if we just try hard enough, we can avoid pain, mistakes, and heartache—is not only false, it’s harmful. It robs us of the resilience that comes from facing our struggles head-on, of the empathy born from understanding that everyone is fighting their own battles, and of the joy found in embracing life’s imperfections.


So, to every woman standing at the crossroads of healing, paintbrush in hand, ready to create something beautiful from the chaos—remember, your masterpiece doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be yours. Let go of the notion that healing must be a flawless process. Embrace the mess, the spills, and the unexpected strokes. Because it’s in those moments that you’ll discover not only the art of healing but the art of living.

In addition to being regular contributors to the #1 Online Magazine For Codependency Recovery, Stephanie and David are a husband and wife coaching team who specialize in helping professional women rediscover themselves and create their best lives after toxic relationships. Check out their new podcast where they share their guidance and insights into healing your heart and creating your best life, and get a free gift for subscribing:

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