“When I interviewed women and men who were engaging with the world from a place of authenticity and worthiness, I realized that they had a lot in common regarding perfectionism. First, they spoke about their imperfections in a tender and honest way, and without shame and fear. Second, they were slow to judge themselves and others. They appeared to operate from a place of “We’re all doing the best we can.” Their courage, compassion, and connection seemed rooted in the way they… treated themselves” – Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
Perfectionism is a beast. And it’s one that we all contend with to some degree. For some of us, it only shows up when we are feeling particularly vulnerable. For others, it’s an exhausting and addictive way of life. The core need that perfectionism aims to meet is to avoid the painful feelings of shame, judgement, and blame. Ironically, perfectionism doesn’t protect us from these painful feelngs – it fuels them. And even more, perfectionism gets in the way of healthy striving and healthy relationships. If we blame, shame and judge ourselves – we are much more likely to pass blame, shame, and judgement onto everyone else.
One way perfectionism shows up is in our self-talk. Take this example from The Gifts of Imperfection:
“Perfectionism self-talk: ‘Ugh. Nothing fits. I’m fat and ugly. I’m ashamed of how I look. I need to be different than I am right now to be worthy of love and belonging.’
Healthy-striving self-talk: “I want this for me. I want to feel better and be healthier. The scale doesn’t dictate if I’m loved and accepted. If I believe that I’m worthy of love and respect now, I will invite courage, compassion, and connection into my life. I want to figure this out for me. I can do this.”
(Replace the above example with any area of your life that you struggle with and ask yourself if your self-talk sounds more like healthy-striving or perfectionism)
So what’s the antidote to perfectionism? Self-Compassion. You can read more about Kristin Neff’s groundbreaking work in Self-Compassion as it relates to perfectionism in The Gifts of Imperfection – but for now, here are the super abbreviated definitions of the three elements of self-compassion:
Self-Kindness – being warm and understanding towards ourselves when we fail or feel inadequate instead of ignoring our pain or beating ourselves up with self-criticism
Common Humanity – recognizing that suffering and feelings of personal inadequacy are part of the shared human experience and not unique to “me” alone.
Mindfulness – Taking a balanced approach to negative emotions so that feelings are NEITHER suppressed NOR exaggerated.
Now it’s YOUR turn…
Where does your perfectionism show up? Do you have a favorite practice or mantra that helps you cultivate self-compassion instead?
Share your comments below. Let’s be brave, kind, and awkward together!