Isn’t it interesting how upon learning a new concept, you see it vividly in others, but not necessarily in yourself. Well, that’s not the case this time because I know all too well how perfectionism has played out in my life. I do see it in others too. I’m done with it although this is easier said than done.
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, judgement, 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 when we invariably do experience shame, judgement, 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 painful emotions and often leads to self-blame: It’s my fault. I’m feeling this way because “I’m not good enough.”
This is Brene Brown’s definition of perfectionism from her book entitled The Gifts of Imperfection. As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve experienced the pain of perfectionism for most of my life. I’m all too familiar with shame, blame and judgement. The definition of perfectionism is both liberating and frightening to me. It’s liberating because by choosing not to live like this anymore, I am free from being so concerned about what other people think. It’s frightening because I see it in my family and how I was raised. I can see that so many people are needlessly torturing themselves (not that there is ever a “need” to torture yourself). As I’ve developed more self-compassion, I realized I’ve become my own worst enemy based on my thoughts. I’m a work in progress.
Self-care entails practicing self-empathy and self-compassion. Stop worrying about what other people think because they will have their own perception regardless. Brene already confirmed (see above 2nd bullet) that there is no way to control perception. The idea of being perfect is an overwhelming weight to carry on your shoulders. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
If my rational logic has not swayed you from your perfectionistic tendencies, I suggest you do some work to challenge your thoughts. A vehicle for the work could be to maintain a journal so that you can explore these concepts further. How does perfectionism manifest in your life? Is it harmless (I need to get the recipe just right so they’ll enjoy it) or causing you grief (if I don’t get the recipe just right, they’ll think that I didn’t learn how to cook the cultural dishes passed down and I won’t be able to pass them onto my children)? What are you afraid people will find out about you? Practice visualization. Imagine how much lighter you’d feel without the burden of perfectionism.