To all my type A friends out there, I must share with you this eye opening passage in Brene Brown’s “The Gifts of Imperfection”.
Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield. Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight.
Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance. Most perfectionists were raised being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule-following, people-pleasing, appearance, sports). Somewhere along the way, we adopt this dangerous and debilitating belief system: I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect. Healthy striving is self-focused—How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused—What will they think?
Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, live perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.
Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because there is no such this as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal. Additionally, perfectionism is more about perception—we want to be perceived as perfect. Again, this is unattainable—there is no way to control perception, regardless of how much time and energy we spend trying.
Perfectionism is addictive because when we invariably do experience shame, judgment, and blame, we often believe it’s because we weren’t perfect enough. So rather than questioning the faulty logic or perfectionism, we become even more entrenched in out quest to live, look, and do everything just right.
Feeling shamed, judged and blamed (and the fear of these feelings) are realities of the human experience. Perfectionism actually increases the odds that we’ll experience these painful emotions and often leads to self-blame: It’s my faulty. I’m feeling this way because “I’m not good enough.”
To overcome perfectionism, we need to acknowledge who we are and where we are vulnerable to the feelings of shame and blame, practice compassion, and feel love.