Brené Brown defines perfection as: “…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, judgment, and blame.’” She goes on to say that,”[P]erfectionism is addictive because when we invariably do 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.” (Brown, 2009).
Sound familiar? As moms, as women, how often have we felt imprisoned in that quest to have everything in our lives be just right? The cacophony of SHOULDs and SHOULDN’Ts can become deafening: A clean house and manicured lawn. Everything your kids do sends the message about how you parent them, and your trash tells your neighbors how much you (don’t) care about the planet. Are you donating enough time to your church? You aren’t doing enough. Are you the best at your job? What do you even do all day? Are your eyebrows so five years ago? Yoga pants are for lazy women. (Did you get them from LuLaRoe?) You’d feel more confident if you contoured…cuz you’d be prettier. You’re not gonna wear that bikini, are you? You use only organic produce, right? Breast is best! You mean you don’t make time to exercise every day? No excuses! You aren’t happy because you aren’t good enough.
What are we doing to ourselves? Perfection is an unattainable goal. Why are we wasting so much of our time, ourselves, pursuing something we can never achieve? What if I told you that all this perfectionism, the living in fear of judgment and shame, was actually killing you?
Sadly, it is. Studies have shown that perfectionism leads to depression, earlier mortality (Fry & Debats, 2009), often suicide (Flett et al, 2014). I could cite research and studies all day, I was a Psych major, but I don’t think I need to spend time more convincing you that demanding perfection from yourself is healthy, or even possible.
What I want to focus on is how to change this. How to stop ourselves from going down the road to self-destruction.
Brené Brown suggests that, “To overcome perfectionism we need to be able to acknowledge our vulnerabilities to the universal experiences of shame, judgment, and blame; develop shame resilience; and practice self-compassion. When we become more loving and compassionate with ourselves and we begin to practice shame resilience, we can embrace our imperfections. It is in the process of embracing our imperfections that we find our truest gifts and strengthen our most meaningful connections.” (Brown, 2009).
What are some ways you embrace your imperfections? How do we allow ourselves to accept the feelings of shame, judgment, and blame when they come, and not let them feed into our negative self-image?
This article here has a great summary of many other experiments and studies centered around perfectionism and how destructive it is (Flett, G., 2012).
Flett, G. L., Hewitt, P. L., & Heisel, M. J. (2014). The destructiveness of perfectionism revisited: Implications for the assessment of suicide risk and the prevention of suicide. Review of General Psychology, 18(3), 156-172.
Fry, P. S., & Debats, D. L. (2009, May). Perfectionism and the Five-factor Personality Traits as Predictors of Mortality in Older Adults. Retrieved August 10, 2017, from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1359105309103571
Brown, B. (2009, March 18). Perfectionism and claiming shame. Retrieved August 14, 2017, from http://brenebrown.com/2009/03/18/2009318perfectionism-and-claiming-shame-html/
Flett, G. (2012, February 29). The Price of Perfectionism. Retrieved August 10, 2017, from https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/the-price-of-perfectionism