The Shame of Perfectionism

Perfectionism is one of those overused answers bad interviewees use as their “greatest weakness”.

“My greatest weakness is…[insert feigned look of guilt/humility]…I’m a perfectionist. Oh, and I’m also a raging alcoholic.”

But the idea of perfection, seductive as it may be, is an impractical and unattainable goal.

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown

Perfectionism slows down progress and makes us afraid to take risks – nothing is ever quite ready or good enough.

Perfectionists may pride themselves on having high standards, but whose standards are they really trying to meet?

Perfectionists are focused on what others want – what will they think? How will they judge me? Their entire focus is on pleasing others and earning approval.

Perfectionism is fueled by shame, whether it occurs in our writing, art, looks, or personality.

Shame is the fear that who we are is not good enough – that we’re unworthy of connection and are ultimately unlovable.

We all experience shame, and if we try to deny or avoid it (being ashamed of our shame), it intensifies.

Shame can appear as shyness and timidity – withdrawing, not expressing our opinions, always looking to our friends or idols for what’s agreeable or popular.

On the other hand, strong, confident people don’t let others define their personalities or beliefs.

Shame may manifest as anger, aggression, or cynicism, particularly if we see someone who is overcoming their own shame in an area where we have not overcome ours. Their courage reminds us of our own unresolved fears, and because we feel threatened and small, we try to shame that person and put them back in their box.

But you never see someone who is confident and secure with themselves tearing down others.

Shame can masquerade as rigidity – pretending that we don’t have emotions and avoiding them through denial, mockery, or suppression.

However, the only people without emotions are psychopaths and those with chemical imbalances.

Research has shown a high correlation between shame and addiction, violence, aggression, depression, eating disorders, and bullying. Shame has not been linked to any positive outcomes whatsoever.

We cannot fully overcome shame, but we can build our shame resilience.

Building shame resilience is not about turning off all of our filters and being overly vulnerable, nor is it about ignoring all criticism and not caring what others think.

It’s also not about complacency and lowering our standards for ourselves.

It’s about changing our core beliefs, and learning that in order to feel lovable and to belong, we don’t need to be flawless – we simply need to believe we are worthy of love and belonging.

To build shame resilience:

  1. Practice courage. Have the courage to feel your shame and your emotions. Share your experiences with someone who has earned the right to hear them.
  2. Change the way you talk to yourself. Talk to yourself like you would talk to a close friend you’re trying to comfort.
  3. Own your story. Don’t try to bury it or deny it. If you can own your story, you get to choose how it ends.

Daring greatly is not about being perfect and impressing others – it’s about having the courage to define yourself rather than being defined by those around you.

To learn more about building your shame resilience, check out Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown.

Lastly, if you don’t follow this blog, then you should be very, very ashamed of yourself.

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