“When perfectionism is driving, shame is always riding shotgun and fear is the annoying backseat driver”.
– Brené Brown
Y-E-S! I relate to this saying with every single part of my body, don’t you? Perfectionism, shame and fear are like three best friends that together make a very destructive trio. We really have to break them up and make them see that they are not good for one and other – and more importantly, that they are not good for you. But, I don’t always get the impression that everyone sees perfectionism as something toxic. Instead, many people look at perfectionism in a rather positive light and tend to identify with the concept of it, without thinking twice. Why is that? Well, to begin with, the common definition of perfectionism is “the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection”. And, by hearing that – of course you might think “So what? What is the problem with that?” And I understand that, no wonder most of us want to be perfectionists then, if it just means that we have high standards and that we want to do things perfectly. It is also what is celebrated in the “modern culture” today – hard work and perfection. However, what this definition forgets to tell, is that there are many layers to perfectionism and that it really goes hand in hand with shame and fear. Neither does this definition give away the constant questioning of ones worth, that perfectionism often stems from. No, instead it enhances the idea of it being a positive personality trait and something to strive for.
I used to look at it from this perspective too. I even put it on my resume once like: “Skills: fast learner, good communication skills, perfectionist…” – and I remember that it was pointed out as something positive in the interviews I got called into. So no, I do not believe that people question perfectionism as much as they should, but again why would they, when western societies more or less glamorises it? In my opinion however, there is nothing glamorous about perfectionism. It is just a way of hiding, regulating pain and avoiding judgement. As Dr. Brown once said: “…we struggle with perfectionism in areas where we are the most vulnerable to shame, we think that if we can control how something looks or how something is perceived by others, then we can avoid shame and judgement”. I don’t know how many times I have thought “if I look perfect I can avoid criticism and I will fit in“. In reality, there will unfortunately always be people who judge you because of how they feel about themselves. The only thing that a perfectionist mindset is keeping you from, is being seen as who you are and standing in your truth.
I know that there will be womxn who read this, who don’t see themselves as perfectionists. And as much as I respect that and hope that it is true, I would also like to argue that you most likely still experience the negative effects of perfectionism – in one way or another. It can be hard to recognise this within yourself, because we usually have an idea of how a perfectionist must act and be, and what a perfectionist must look like. More often than not, we don’t think that we fit into that description. We portrait perfectionists as being perfect, and this can be a problem because if you can’t recognise the perfectionism within you, you can’t heal that part of you. You see – perfectionism, from my point of view, is never feeling good enough and constantly chasing other people’s approval. Consciously or subconsciously. It is detrimental to our mental health, it is self-harm and it needs to be acknowledged and taken care of with self-love and compassion. Perfectionism doesn’t “look” a particular way and it doesn’t come in one shape and form. We also don’t have to be perfectionists in all areas of our lives for it to be an issue. It can manifest itself within specific areas where we struggle the most with shame and fear. So even if you don’t see yourself as a perfectionist, have a look at how you might still me impacted by perfectionism.
I am one of those people who used to identify as a perfectionist and although I’ve healed most of my body perfectionism, this part of me still pops up every now and then. I also struggle with perfectionism within other areas of my life, but self-awareness helps me to regulate that and to challenge myself. It is scary – to put yourself out there and to accept that you have flaws and that the things that you do will not be perfect. It is terrifying and I feel extremely vulnerable every time I do it. However, the question that I always ask myself is “am I going to let the perfectionist in me take over and stop me from being seen and heard as my authentic self, or should I just be scared, do it anyway and stand in my truth?”. Well, for me the answer is always the same – I want to live by the latter. So, I encourage you to ask yourself this as well and look into when and how perfectionism shows up for you. What are the underlying fears? What are the benefits from letting the perfectionist side of you control and what are the costs? How can you challenge this?
Scarcity, as I mentioned in my previous post as well, plays a huge part in this too. If we have the limiting belief that we are not good enough, perfectionism kind of comes with the buy whether we want it to or not. At the end of the day it is all a matter of accepting yourself as you are and acknowledging your worth. You are worthy and you are great just as you are. You can’t be and you don’t have to be perfect. The standard that perfection requires, is unreachable for one person alone. You can not be all of the things that make up perfection. To strive for growth and doing the best that you can is not a bad thing, that’s a good thing and it keeps you motivated – but that is not the same as perfectionism. Perfectionism is all about what other people think and very little of what you think. Of course, all of this also ties into appearance and body image as well. We have to learn to see our value, our worth and our beauty in every form we take. Body shapes will come and go, how we look is never fixed but how we feel about and value ourselves should be on a stable level, always. And, before you let your ego get ahead, accepting is not the same as settling, it simply just means that you accept and love yourself at every stage of your life. You can accept and love yourself at the same time as you want to improve something about your external self – but it is important that you reach that level where you’re not identified with whatever you want to change because you know that that is not who you are.
On a final note, never project your happiness into the future by saying “when.…., then I will be happy/loveable/worthy/etc”. You can be all of those things right now and no matter what – you are worthy now. Not when, not if, but right now.