The Problem with Perfection
Walking around and carrying the weight of perfection is a burden. It’s a burden that so many carry…silently, dutifully, their entire lives. Perfect feels safe and it feels desired. It feels like control and it feels like being worthy.
But on the inside, perfection is an angry monster. If you haven’t noticed yet, I tend to personify a lot of emotions and experiences. It helps me (and clients I work with) to be able to see how these things are part of them, but also not something that they have to feel like aligns with their beliefs fully.
We were never meant to be perfect. We were mean to be human. We were never meant to have the social media “perfection” that is chased. We were meant to be imperfect, yet whole.
However, perfectionism is praised. For many, it starts as children and then becomes the reinforcement used to validate everything. Perfectionism is seen as a goal to work towards, whether it be through out work, appearance, or relationships.
The idea that we have to be without flaw to measure up is a lie that holds so many people back from even trying. Fear paralyzes. Perfectionism keeps us focused on what wasn’t good enough or what won’t be good enough in the future and keeps us from being present. It is an exhausting ride to pretend you don't have flaws, and it can influence both physical and mental health. The problem with perfectionism is that is sets you up for a standard you can never achieve, no matter how hard you try. No matter how much you work. Even when you achieve one goal, perfection will find another one.
The impact of perfection...
Perfection plays a large role in the guilt and shame that come with mental illness and the guilt and shame that often keep people from seeking therapy. When you may feel like reaching out for help or support, perfection chimes in and says, “don’t be weak, you don’t need anyone. You can do it all by yourself.”
For me, perfectionism worked as a form of control. If I couldn't control what was going on, I wanted to make what I could control as perfect as possible. This meant achieving good grades, receiving affirmation for always going "above and beyond" and running myself into the group to keep up appearances. As long as everything seemed “perfect”, it was okay and safe. I wonder how many of you can relate to that? Perfectionism is anxiety and insecurity masked as high achievement.
If you haven't read Brené Brown's books, you are missing out. In The Gifts of Imperfection, she says, "Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfection is not about healthy achievement and growth." She shares how perfectionism is used as a way to stay safe and to avoid blame, judgement, or shame. It's a way to stay on the surface.
There are two different types of perfectionism, and you may recognize one or both in the way that you live. The first type is personal standards perfectionism and this is the person who is very internally motivated, sets the bar high and may not even realize they are doing it. The second type is self-critical perfectionism and this is true of people who have had high standards set for them.
In high school, I had a friend whose dad would make him shoot and make a certain number of shots from the free-throw line before he could be done for the day. These goals were not really his, but he worked toward them anyways.
There has been a lot of research done of the different types of experiences people have with perfectionism and people who face self-critical perfectionism are more likely to be anxious, depressed, critical of themselves and may develop negative ways to cope.
Perfectionism may be expected of you, and you may carry that weight around with you daily, even if it isn't something you expected of yourself. The majority of people I know and interact with want to be successful and want to work hard in order to do that. None of those things are bad on their own, but when perfection is expected, expectations can never be met.
The Shame & Guilt of Admitting You aren’t Perfect
Perfection becomes a barrier for mental health for many people who are exhausted, but they can fix everything on their own or don't need help. This is evident through my work with eating disorders on a daily basis. Many patients I work with don't feel like they need help and their perfectionistic tendencies keep them from admitting when things are wrong.
It’s hard to admit you need help and it’s hard to get over your pride about having to ask for help. This can be increased based on the way you grew up and your cultural experience. One thing I often think is helpful when talking about perfection is to figure out whether you experience guilt or shame when you don't live up to the standards you set for yourself.
Here's an easy way to remember the difference between guilt and shame...
Guilt- negative feelings that occur from believing you’ve done something bad/that doesn’t align with your value
Shame- negative feelings from believing YOU are bad
Perfection isn't all bad...it can also come with a lot of positive traits. The flip side to perfection is the kind of passion and stubborness like you wouldn't believe. Those traits can be harnessed for good when perfection isn't the standard.
My best recommendation? Give yourself grace and freedom to make mistakes. You aren't a robot. You are allowed to make mistakes. Be comfortable with who you are and let go of expectations you or someone else has come up with about who you should be.
In order to see if perfection is a problem for you, Psychology Today has created this free quiz that takes about 20 minutes to complete.
Things to think about:
1) What areas in your life do you struggle with perfection?
2) Can you identify if it is a personal standard or self-critical perfectionism for you?
3) What would you do differently if you weren't focused on "having it all together"?
4) Do you find yourself experiencing shame or guilt when you aren't able to do things perfectly?
5) What are you trying to cover up through perfection?
Want to continue the conversation?
Be sure to join the FREE Facebook Community and continue the discussion there! What other struggles are you currently battling with as you navigate your small business journey? I would love to help! Feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any questions you may have or topics you would like to see covered in future posts.