What is perfectionism costing you?

“We have more access to information, more books, and more good science – why are we struggling like never before? Because we do not talk about the things that get in the way of doing what we know is best for us, our children, our families, our organizations, and our communities.”  

— Excerpt from “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are” by Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW

Like many of you, when I read Brené’s The Gifts of Imperfection, I was captivated by her research and her languaging of what I have struggled with much of my life.

I remember reading through this book underlining paragraphs and writing personal thoughts in the margins all the while talking about with everyone I knew.

Parts of me led life through the lens of perfection believing this was the best way to live and do life. As destructive as all or nothing thinking is – it also provides a container of control and purpose to protect – giving the illusion this approach to life is sustainable. Until it isn’t.

I now know perfection is a fierce protector. Hustle. Numb out. Focus on the results. Or do not try at all. Perfection thinks it is the ultimate safety armor. And yet it also ends up wreaking havoc on faith, health, confidence, courage and creativity because the anxiety of perfection fuels both overfunctioning  and underfunctioning.

Perfectionism is often behind:

  • Missed social events + work
  • Loss of sleep
  • Physical symptoms (GI distress, panic attacks, appetite confusion)
  • Racing thoughts
  • Exhaustion
  • People pleasing and worries of letting people down
  • Dread of being misunderstood
  • Procrastination and missed deadlines
  • Constant feelings of failure and unworthiness
  • Panic and perseveration
  • Overwhelm + Obsession
  • Competition and comparison
  • Fears of being found out as a fraud

There is great cost to living a life led by perfectionism.

It is related to loss of revenue and professional opportunities scarcity mindset, relationship difficulties, physical and emotional health problems all the while crushing confidence, faith, calm, and clarity.

A life led by perfectionism costs us our sense of what it truly means to feel worthy – regardless of what we do or what others think. And it sure fights to keep status quo as it fears moving away from this lens will cause more pain and struggle. 

Reading Gifts of Imperfection shifted so much for so many. And years later, we are having brave and honest conversations about perfectionism. It has been powerful for me and many I know to have “Me, too.” conversations around this topic.

At the same time, all of the insight and awareness around perfectionism has created perfectionism around not being a perfectionist.

In essence, perfectionism can hijack the process of trying to move away from the perfectionism. It is an interesting beast, for sure.

Behind perfection is shame, anxiety and fear. There is nothing pretty about these emotions and the impact they have on our lives and the world around us. But the pain needs to be unburdened – not stuffed, minimized or camouflaged or they will keep hijacked what you desire most: connection, confidence and safe community. Which is why I am offering a workshop focused on the fierce protector so we can get curious about its intent and discover ways to shift away from a perfectionistic mindset without triggering feelings of overwhelm. 

If you say to yourself one or more of the following:

  • Why am I still struggling with____? You should have had things figured out by now…
  • No one can ever see me struggle.
  • Why try? It will not be good enough no matter what.
  • Everyone else has it all together but me…
  • I am obsessed with eating healthy – food is good or bad and my body is the enemy.
  • I can’t stop counting calories. If I do, I will lose control and not be desired.
  • You are the one who has to keep it all together. You can’t struggle.

…. then perfectionism is still trying to protect you the best way it knows how. 

And at the heart of these emotions lies trauma, betrayal, attachment injuries, rejection, loneliness, confusion.

If you try and fix perfectionism without digging deeper and doing the work to heal the root of the pain, you will only get temporary relief. And this work is not easy. But it can be so fruitful. It never ceases to amaze me what we learn about ourselves because we have the help of trusted support.

We can’t think ourselves through the pain – we have to feel our way through it. Perfection says fix it now and be done. Wisdom says this is a lifelong process.

My excitement about doing the work to (re) define perfection is in part selfish as I am doing this work continually myself. Safe community is a powerful space to continue to rumble with perfection and (re) define its role in your life.

If the pain of perfectionism resonates with you, I encourage you to consider joining us in San Diego on May 18-20 for (re) Define Perfection: Choosing Flexibility Over Rigidity – which is part of our summer mental health series for adults.  You’ll learn how to implement daily life practices to help build the resilience and courage needed to show up in life with both boundaries and an open heart. Learn More.

What do you rumble with this most? How is perfection costing you? I want to hear about your experiences with perfection and rigidity and how you are tackling this common issue.

With gratitude – Rebecca

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