“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”
— Brene Brown
Brene Brown is a sociologist, researcher, and storyteller who works and teaches at the University of Houston. Her TED talks, The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame, about her research have gone viral, and she has written 4 bestselling books including Daring Greatly. Brene calls herself a “Defense Against the Dark Arts” teacher (referencing Harry Potter) because when we shine the light on shame, it can’t survive. And we are able to connect to other people the way we really want.
Shame and Vulnerability
Most of us don’t want to be vulnerable. It’s scary. We worry that people won’t like us or will think badly of us if we are truly vulnerable. But the problem is we need to be vulnerable in order to connect with people.
Shame is the major feeling that stops us from being vulnerable. Feeling shame is essentially feeling “I’m bad,” or “I’m worthless.” It makes a judgement on us and our worth. Shame is the reason we are scared to be vulnerable.
We use all kinds of armor and shields to avoid feeling vulnerable. One of them is perfectionism. We think that if we do everything right and everything perfectly we won’t have to feel shame or vulnerability ever. If we never do anything wrong or bad or even less than perfect, no one can judge us.
There are several problems with perfectionism. First, it’s just not possible. We will all fall short on something. Second, we’re trying to make it a barrier between us and shame, but really it’s a barrier between us and the people that we want to connect with.
You might see perfectionism show up in your life in a variety of ways. One way a lot of women fall victim to it is in the “mommy wars.” What I mean by that is those (often online) exchanges where moms judge others for whatever choices they are making. If a mom sends her child to school with a processed lunch, other moms might judge her for not preparing homemade meals for her child, or she might feel she is being judged for that. Whether the judgement is real or perceived the likely outcome is that the mom feels shame.
Don’t Let Perfect Get in the Way of Good
For many of us, perfectionism gets in the way. It makes us feel shame, but it also can just get in the way of living life. We feel that if we can’t do something perfectly, it’s not worth doing. It also keeps us from really connecting with the people around us. As Brene says, this is the path to “depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”
The good news is that we don’t have to go down that path. We can choose to be vulnerable and share our inner lives with people who are close to us and who care about us. When we create those connections, we can drop the armor.