Perfectionism is, essentially, the idea that if you aren’t doing everything perfectly, then you’re failing. When we take a step back from this and remember that we are, in fact, HUMAN, we realize we are setting ourselves up for failure every single time we expect perfection.
For many, talking about perfectionism is much more comfortable than talking about shame which is often the root cause for this cycle. However, talking about perfectionism without discussing shame is like talking about how to bake a cake without listing flour as an ingredient. Shame is uncomfortable to talk about and feel for a reason. As with all emotions it has an important message to share – your values aren’t being adhered to and others might judge you for it. It can convince you that you are not worthy of love, help, or anything good.
As Brené Brown says, “Shame is the birthplace of perfectionism.”
Let’s dive in deeper. Shame is essentially an interpretation of our experiences that sends us the message “I am bad.” In effort to cope with these messages we use perfectionist behaviors to avoid feeling this way. For example, if I can live in a perfect home/look perfect/be perfect then I will be enough and I can avoid feeling bad.
But that’s just the problem – there is no perfect. No one is perfect. We all have flaws and we ALL make mistakes. And it’s important that we make mistakes because that’s how we learn to navigate in our world! When we hold ourselves to the “Perfect”, the cycle goes like this:
I fail at being perfect therefore I am not enough (shame), so to combat this feeling of “not enough” I try to be more perfect, however perfection is unattainable, so I fail at being perfect… and it all starts over.
In order to get out of the dangerous and addictive cycle of perfectionism, we start with the root: shame. Shame can be uncomfortable to talk about, and often a topic of conversation where many of us don’t have a lot of experience sharing our shame or even a language in which we know how to share our shame. Shame is a universal human emotion. At B&T, we talk about emotions being our guides – shame is there to help us live in accordance with our values. But here’s the thing – sometimes our values are based on other people’s beliefs or based on something that’s impossible to acheive! Check in with your values and see if you truly believe in them and if they are based in your reality.
“Shame is easily understood as the fear of disconnection.” – Brené Brown
Sometimes this perfectionism cycle causes us to avoid other people so they don’t see our imperfect selves. When we use perfectionism to avoid other people believing we are unworthy or unlovable, we don’t get the chance to show up as our authentic self, thus denying ourselves a chance to be seen and accepted as we are. Perfectionism destroys our opportunity for connection. It pins us down in unworthiness.