How Perfectionism Stalls Postpartum Recovery in High-Achieving Career Women


The true developmental task for every postpartum recovering mama is learning how to navigate each and everyday at their own pace and in accordance to their own unique experiences. This task among what can seem like many other important tasks, beckons and calls for us to stay in touch with ourselves, because when we stay in touch with ourselves, we’re more likely to truly honor ourselves.

Navigating a New Identity

Yet, the question that I get asked quite often from many new (and even experienced) mamas who are simultaneously high-achieving career women is, “How do I stay in touch with an unrecognizable changing self?”

To which I often respond, “Let the idea of who you think you are evolve beyond any of your preexisting guidelines for how you ‘should’ show up in the world.” In other words, “Open the door of the room you’re in and let yourself walk out. Even if you stand in the hallway for awhile, its better than keeping yourself locked in a room that you’ve outlived and outgrown.”

The Rigidity of Perfectionism

However, a side effect of perfectionism is rigidity, and rigidity rarely allows us to admit when we’ve outlived and outgrown various phases in our lives. The rigidity of perfectionism in postpartum recovery can appear as the following:

  • Hyper-focus on diligence in order to avoid accidents, mistakes, or being judged
  • Trying to look your best, having your baby look their best, and trying to sustain an environment preexistent of having a little one
  • Being impatient with your divided attention, changes in your energy levels, desire, and productivity
  • Devaluing small ordinary moments of joy or ease in attempt to meet unrealistic expectations of yourself
  • Constant gathering of information because of incessant self-doubt of not knowing ‘enough’
  • Letting the fear of being perceived as ‘vulnerable, weak, or a burden’ keep you from asking for help
  • Limiting your options of what’s possible in the moment because of harsh and critical self evaluations of your present self in comparison to your to past self

Additionally, various studies have shown the correlation between unchecked perfectionism and postpartum OCD for women of diverse backgrounds, and religious and spiritual paths. The rigid guidelines of perfectionistic expectations of self and the stress it causes can contribute to patterns of intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors that get in the way of new and experienced mamas finding a healthier quality of life during their postpartum recovery.

Signs of Postpartum OCD Symptoms Exacerbated by Perfectionism

  • Incessant fear of failure in daily routines and responsibilities
  • Intrusive thoughts or images of losing control of worst possible outcomes
  • Hyper-focus on strict schedules, routines, rituals as a way of dealing with anxiety and uncertainty
  • Rehearsing scenarios while also avoiding scenarios that trigger various anxieties 
  • An increase of stored emotions, tightness, and tension in the body
  • Emotional exhaustion from efforts to conceal distress

Both perfectionism and postpartum OCD can stall postpartum recovery in high-achieving career women. Thus, affecting the quality of lives of many women.  To begin to address these effects, its recommended to follow-up with both your doctor as well as a Licensed Psychotherapist who specializes in treating severities of perfectionism and supporting postpartum mom’s into a new normal. As a Licensed Psychotherapist, Career Woman, and mom, I get it.

Finding Support

It’s important that new and experienced mamas navigating postpartum recovery remember that as human beings, we’re not always the best people to talk to ourselves about ourselves when we’re feeling fearful, exhausted, or full of uncertainties. Therefore, we have to choose deliberately those whom we can trust to help support us along the way? So, as you’re trying to decipher if its to time to get help and if we would be a good fit in working together to help you honor your needs at this time, here are a few tips to help you get started:

  • Be honest with yourself about what you need and how you’re feeling
  • Give yourself permission to let go of unrealistic expectations
  • Allow yourself to pause for a minute throughout the day as needed, as you intentionally breathe fully into your lungs and your body.
  • Surrender the need to be in control of the uncontrollable by having difficult conversations with those whom you trust and asking for help.
  • Ditch momentum and embrace the moment. I’ll never forget when someone I interacted imparted these words to me, “Momentum is derived from moment.  Remain in the moment and you’ll find what you need”.

When you’re ready to reach out, I’d love to be of support in any way that I can be.

Carmelle Ellison, LCSW

I help high-achieving adults, especially in the BIPOC community live authentically wholesome lives via telehealth therapy throughout California.


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