Book review: The Perfectionist’s Guide to Losing Control

Psychotherapist Katherine Morgan Schafler has written a wise and witty book that helps perfectionists to celebrate and manage this trait.

Book cover - The Perfectionist's Guide to Losing Control


Book review: The Perfectionist’s Guide to Losing Control, by Katherine Morgan Schafler

“You’ve been told ad nauseam that perfectionists set themselves free by getting rid of their perfectionism. I’m telling you right now that that will never work,” says Katherine Morgan Schafler in her wise, witty and practical book about perfectionism.

Morgan Schafler is a New York-based psychotherapist, with several years’ experience in working with perfectionist clients. In her new book, she helps perfectionists (like me!) to understand how this trait is usually framed as a criticism and is usually directed at women. She then explores how perfectionists can in fact celebrate this trait, learn to manage it, and use it to help them thrive. 

Morgan Schafler begins by setting out five broad categories of perfectionist and helps the reader to identify which one they are (I’m a mix of Classic and Parisian, which makes me sound a lot more sophisticated than I am). She looks at the strengths and weaknesses of each type, drawing on beautifully detailed examples of the behaviour she has seen in her clients – from how they clean a cup to how they look for a new job.

These chapters also look at society’s general view of perfectionism – that it is especially prevalent in women, that it makes those women unhappy and difficult to work with. Morgan Schafler energetically challenges this, pointing out that what we deem “perfectionism” in women is often simply called “ambition” in men (I definitely know men who fit perfectly into her five types of perfectionists). She cites Serena Williams being disciplined for challenging umpires, when some male tennis players have done so with no consequences.

How to stop over-thinking it and overdoing it

Morgan Schafler then takes us through practical tips to help perfectionists manage this trait, making a clear distinction between adaptive (energising) and maladaptive (draining) perfectionism. She gives practical guidance on how to stop over-thinking when you don’t meet your high standards, whether that takes the form of self-punishment, comparing yourself to others, or endless ‘coulda woulda shoulda’ spirals. 

She also sets out guidance on how to stop over-doing it, another common pitfall for perfectionists, with a focus on managing your energy rather than your time. I think many parents know that feeling of finally getting a free hour for yourself in the evening, not having enough energy to do anything other than scroll on your phone, and then beating yourself up for wasting your one window of free time.

It is some of these swaps – seeing ambition instead of perfectionism, managing energy instead of time – that have stayed with me since I read this book. There were some minor weak points along the way; the book sometimes feels too long and sometimes leans a little too heavily on the hypothesis that this is solely a women’s issue.

Throughout the book, Morgan Schafler’s deep affection for perfectionists shines through, both in her detailed observations and in her humour. At the start of one chapter, she playfully describes how each type of perfectionist would go about writing it. For example: “A Classic perfectionist writes the first sentence, hates it, tries her best to forget it ever existed, but is inevitably haunted by it for a minimum of eight years.”

I don’t think I want to tell you how close to my reality that is. But maybe I’m just ambitious.


The Perfectionist’s Guide to Losing Control.

Author: Katherine Morgan Schafler

Publisher: Orion

RRP: from £13.99 (paperback)

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