Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Why Perfectionism is Not Your Friend

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about perfectionism. It started a few weeks ago when a friend of mine told me a story about her sister-in-law, who was a "perfect" person. According to my friend, the sister-in-law presented only images of having it all together. Her marriage was perfect, her children were perfect, her house was perfect, her clothes were perfect, even her recent vacation (whom others in attendance deemed "disastrous") was perfect. According to this lady, everything in her life was fabulous all the time. 

I'd never heard of anyone like this (or maybe I'd just never realized the extent to which some people go to appear bigger and better than life), and I wondered why someone would claim to have had a glorious vacation when her flight was cancelled, her luggage was lost for several days, she had become sick, and had reportedly melted down and screamed at the hotel staff. (Personally, I would have enjoyed sharing the drama story, more than pretending it never happened---but that's just me.)

This got me questioning how many "perfect" people I'd been fooled by over the years, people who appeared to possess confidence, conviction, and everything else that is enviable. I traced my newly discovered gullibility back to my first Barbie doll and the American advertising industry's airbrushed images of flawless beauty, spotless homes, and uninterrupted happiness. Wow, I wondered, how could I have spent half a century vaguely believing that what looks good is good? Aaack!

So I went out and found an excellent book, The Gifts of Imperfection, by research professor Brene Brown. This is what she wrote:

  • Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.
  • Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance.
  • Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because there is no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal.
  • Perfectionism is addictive because when we do invariably 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.
  • Perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it's often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, [eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders], and life-paralysis....It's terrifying to risk when you're a perfectionist; your self worth is on the line.
  • 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 painful emotions and often leads to self-blame: It's my fault I'm feeling this way because "I'm not good enough."
  • Perfectionism exists along a continuum. We all have some perfectionistic tendencies. For some, perfectionism may only emerge when they're feeling particularly vulnerable. For others, perfectionism can be compulsive, chronic, and debilitating, similar to addiction.
Please join me here next week as we focus on how to overcome perfectionism and make peace with our humanness.