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When we try to be "perfect enough", we never feel quite "good enough"
May 2014  Issue #42

Today's Topic:  Don't be fooled by these 3 myths about perfectionism

Dear friends,

Last fall my newsletter on Recognizing your Inner Perfectionist really struck a chord for a number of you.  Thanks for letting me know!  
 
I promised you more on this topic.  So this issue explores the “myths” and common misunderstandings about perfectionism, which mask its’ often destructive reality.
 
Here’s to freeing ourselves!
Shirley

 
Something to think about
 
Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order.
                        ― Anne Wilson Schaef


 The face of perfectionism
 
Do you place excessive demands on yourself?  Get upset with yourself when you make a mistake?  Often have a mental list of things you “should be doing”?
 
If you answered yes to some or all of these, you may be experiencing the stress that comes with striving to be “perfect enough”.  These are just a few of the characteristics in Anne Smith’s Self-test for Perfectionists. (See the entire self-test in Recognizing your Inner Perfectionist.)
 
The cost of pursuing perfection
 
For many self-admitted perfectionists, life can be painful at times.  No matter how well we do something, it is never quite perfect enough – which means WE never feel quite good enough.  Trying to be perfect can stifle our creativity and inhibit our ability to learn and try new things.  Life becomes about avoiding failure, as opposed to pursuing joy.  
 
Perfectionism can also rob us of the satisfaction of our accomplishments.  As one of my readers so candidly wrote to me:
 
I am reminded of the challenge I experienced learning to dance.  I was so hard on myself.  Driving home after lessons crying because I thought I should be able to do this thing called dancing – and having little room for myself.  Not realizing that starting to dance at 60 years of age was something I could have been proud of -- instead of judging myself so critically.
 
How is it for you?
 
I believe perfectionism exists along a continuum.  We all have some tendencies, however it’s a matter of degree.  Says researcher Dr. Brene Brown, “For some, perfectionism may only emerge when they’re feeling particularly vulnerable.  For others, perfectionism can be compulsive, chronic and debilitating, similar to addiction.”
 
So let’s loosen its’ grip by gaining a deeper understanding of how perfectionism works.  In her books The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly, Dr. Brene Brown explodes 3 common myths about perfectionism:
 
Myth #1 Perfectionism is the same thing as striving for excellence.
 
According to Brown’s research, perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth at all.  Rather, it’s a “defensive move” that rests on the belief that if we live perfect, act perfect and look perfect, we can avoid feeling the pain of blame, judgement and shame.
 
Myth #2 Perfectionism is the pursuit of self-improvement.
 
Perfectionism is not about self-improvement or having high standards.  Perfectionism is really about trying to earn approval and acceptance.  “Most perfectionists were raised being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule-following, people-pleasing, appearance, sports)” says Brown.  The belief takes shape that: I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it.  There’s a feeling of needing to earn my sense of worth.  Self-improvement is self-focused:  How can I improve?  Perfectionism is other focused:  What will others think?
 
Myth #3 Perfectionism is the key to success.

Contrary to popular perception, perfectionism actually hampers achievement.
The fear of failing, making mistakes, not meeting people’s expectations, and being criticized can all result in “life-paralysis”.  It is difficult to succeed when we are too afraid to take risks around failing or disappointing others. Perfectionism can keep us out of the game.
 
It’s a trap!
 
Brown defines perfectionism as “a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought:  If I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”  In other words, we try to do things perfectly, so we won’t feel bad about ourselves.
 
This kind of thinking is self-destructive because no one is perfect.  It’s an unattainable goal.  Moreover, perfectionism is also about how others perceive us – and we can’t control another’s perceptions, no matter how hard we may try. Again it’s unattainable.
 
If we don’t question this erroneous belief system, we are caught in a vicious cycle.  The more we experience shame, judgement and blame, the more we assume it’s because we weren’t perfect enough.  Says Brown, “So rather than question the faulty logic of perfectionism, we become even more entrenched in our quest to live, look and do everything just right.” 
 
What are we to do?
 
Regardless of where we reside on the perfectionism continuum, Brown asserts that our task is to make the shift from “What will people think?” to “I am enough.”  This requires self-compassion, self-acceptance and an ability to deal constructively with feelings of shame when they are triggered – “shame resilience”.    Above all, it involves the acceptance of ourselves as fallible, imperfect human beings – like everyone else. 
 
The journey to “I am enough” isn’t necessarily simple or easy – however getting there is only possible once you know the direction you’re heading.  For many of us, that means bypassing the deadly detour of perfectionism and dispelling the myths that surround it.
 
Invitation to action
 
Next time you catch yourself stressed-out about doing something “perfectly” take a deep breath and ask yourself:  What would be “adequate” or “good enough” in this situation? Then I invite you to take a risk with “good enough” and see how it works out!   
 
I also recommend familiarizing yourself with the work of Dr. Brene Brown.  Check out her books, her TED talks and all of her online resources at  www.brenebrown.com  Just reading her materials and listening to her talks can be quite transformative!  I also recommend John Bradshaw’s book:  Healing the Shame That Binds You.  It’s an older book, however also excellent in terms of learning about how to recognize shame and how it operates in our lives.
 
Shirley’s Update:

This weekend we are off to Saskatchewan for the Celebration of Life for my mother-in-law Beatrice Vollett, who passed away in April at the age of 93.  There is much about her life and legacy to celebrate -- as she impacted so many people in her family and community.  Her love of learning, music, family and her delightful sense of humour are just a few of the qualities that endeared her to so many.  She was such a cheerleader for me as I launched my coaching practice and was always interested in hearing what I was up to and reading my newsletters. A wonderful mother-in-law!  So today I remember and honour her.
 
Shirley Vollett BSW PCC is a Life and Relationship Coach, with over 20 years of combined experience in counselling and coaching. She delights in helping pro-active individuals make positive changes in their lives, their work/business and their relationships. Her clients appreciate her ability to listen deeply, her compassionate wisdom and her support in staying focused. Contact Shirley for a complimentary intro phone session. If you are experiencing a challenge or are eager to make some changes, explore how coaching works and how she can help. Click on a link below or visit her website.
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