Overcoming Perfectionism

Maybe it’s just me, but I find it interesting that sometimes I seem to find themes in my life- I go through an experience, read something, hear something, or see something in a relatively short timeframe that all have a similar theme. My theme lately has been perfectionism.

In last week’s blog, Present Over Perfection, we talked a bit about how perfection is an illusion and how it can keep us from being present to what really is. Today, I want to talk about what perfectionism is not, what it is, and how to overcome it.

I used to think that perfectionism was healthy, that I shouldn't want to overcome it, that it was my way of being the best I can be, but apparently that has been my excuse.

I read a beautiful excerpt in The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown that really speaks to the myths about perfectionism:

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?

“(…) Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it's often a path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life-paralysis. Life paralysis refers to all the opportunities we miss because we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect. It's also all the dreams that we don't follow because of our deep fear of failing, making mistakes, and disappointing others. It's terrifying to risk when you are a perfectionist; your self-worth is on the line.”

Brown continues by defining perfectionism. She admits that it is a long definition, but I think it is beautifully written and I want to share it here as well.

Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, live perfectly, 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 thing 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 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 of perfectionism, we become even more entrenched in our 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 painfully emotions and often leads to self blame: It's my fault. I'm feeling this way because ‘I'm not good enough.’”

Brown then explains the keys to overcome perfectionism:

“…we need to be able to acknowledge our vulnerabilities to the universal experiences of shame, judgment, and blame; develop shame resilience; and practice self-compassion. When we become more loving and compassionate with ourselves and we begin to practice shame resilience, we can embrace our imperfections. It is in the process of embracing our imperfections that we find our truest gifts: courage, compassion, and connection.”

I have re-read this part in her book a few times now - there’s just so much to take in…so much more in the rest of the pretty thin book.

If you struggle with perfectionism, shame, or guilt, or you are looking for a guide to live a wholehearted life, I recommend this book, The Gifts of Imperfection. I get no monetary gain from endorsing it - I just want to help.

Here’s to conquering stress.

With heart,

The Stress Experts

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