I’ve often noticed when interacting with people who believe struggle with feelings of self-judgment -when producing something, when trying to create something, or, hell, even just trying to be – that they’re hampered by perfectionism, and that what drives their perfectionism is their belief that if they don’t think they have to strive for perfection, they won’t accomplish anything or be successful.
In my own case, I’ve found pretty much the exact opposite to be true, and it seems that Brene Brown things so, too:
In the research there’s a significant difference between perfectionism and healthy striving or striving for excellence. Perfectionism is the belief that if we do things perfectly and look perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around, thinking it will protect us, when in fact it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from being seen.
Perfectionism is also very different than self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval. Most perfectionists grew up being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule following, people pleasing, appearance, sports). Somewhere along the way, they adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system: “I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect.” Healthy striving is self- focused: How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused: What will they think? Perfectionism is a hustle.
Last, perfectionism is not the key to success. In fact, research shows that perfectionism hampers achievement. Perfectionism is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis or missed opportunities. The fear of failing, making mistakes, not meeting people’s expectations, and being criticized keeps us outside of the arena where healthy competition and striving unfolds.
I like that phrasing, that perfectionism is a “hustle: – a little scam our ego (parental and societal super-ego?) runs on our authentic selves to prevent us from actually being happy, creative, and productive – and totally agree with Brown’s assessment that perfectionism is largely about trying to impress other people, rather than doing what makes us happy.