Since reading Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown, I’ve been thinking a lot about vulnerability and shame, and how shame from society, each other, and ourselves shapes our identities.
Perhaps one of the most profound realizations I had was about perfectionism, or achieving some form of perfection that we develop in our minds. For those of us who are intimate with the pursuit of perfection, we know how pervasive it can really be.
Often times it can revolve around body image, especially since we constantly receive signals from our photoshopped society that having the “perfect” body will leave us popular, loved, and happy.
Other times perfectionism comes into play through our wardrobe, our work ethic, or even in each project we take on from baking a cake to painting the garage. We create some ideal projection of perfection that we internalize, and if we don’t meet that goal of perfection then we often feel like failures.
But we will work as hard and long as it takes to get it as close to perfect as possible, by golly, no matter how much sweat and tears it takes!
The desire to be perfect can affect how we view our entire lives. We compare ourselves and our lives to the lives of others who have achieved our idea of perfection and we feel “less than.” Like we will never be good enough.
Striving toward “perfection” (which is only a construct of our minds and not something that is actually real) can be harmful because it puts unreachably high standards on ourselves. It gives us room and an excuse to beat ourselves up or to be hard on ourselves, as if we need any more of that in our lives.
In addition to this, Brené Brown explains that perfectionism is one of the most common forms of vulnerability shields we employ. In effect, the subconscious belief we hold is that if we achieve perfection then we will be protected from criticism, shame, and disconnection from others. If we are perfect then we won’t have anything to beat ourselves up over, and neither will anyone else.
Whoa… When I first read this perspective I knew she was right, and I immediately began looking at the way perfectionism manifests in my own life, which I am certain began at a very young age. Most commonly I believe it revolves around the desire to be successful, particularly in the traditional American sense of the word. I am a high achiever and am highly aware of the standards others hold so that I can meet or surpass them, particularly in a workplace or educational setting. Maybe this is because anything less than an A or a “Great job!” can leave me feeling like there is something that I need to go improve about myself. That I am less than perfect and therefore there is something wrong with me.
In reality, that need to be perfect is just a way to protect myself from feeling like there is something wrong with me or that I need to be fixed. Perfectionism helps us hide from the truth that no matter how “perfect” we are, no matter how meticulously we decorate that cake or how many pounds we shed, there will always be sources of shame out there. There will always be critics, people who have something negative to say no matter the circumstances. And, if we allow it, there will always be that internal voice telling us we aren’t good enough even after each awesome achievement we obtain.
That’s when it really hit me. I have spent my whole life trying to achieve some internal idea of perfection, of what I thought others would perceive as perfect. Even when I didn’t meet those internal standards they were always there pushing to be what I thought people would want. But the reality is that no matter who I am, the decisions I make, or the form my life takes, I can’t please everyone and I will always run into people who will try to make me feel less than. No matter what I do, there will always be haters (sometimes inside my head and most certainly externally).
But we don’t need to feel stressed out by that at all. We can feel liberated. If no matter what we do the response is the same, then why not be exactly who we want to be for this world? Why not let go of the desire to be what we think others want and live life in a way that we can truly be ourselves?
We all deserve a chance to let our divine selves free and live a life that feeds our soul, and letting go of perfectionism is a wonderful first step to achieving that life. It allows us to be in alignment with our true Selves and make decisions that we can feel proud of because they are moving us in the direction of our happiest life, even if others don’t think so.
Perfectionism prevents us from loving who we are in this moment, with all our flaws and our raw humanity. Releasing the never-ending pursuit of “perfect” will help us learn how perfect we are already.