Perfectionism is an internalized oppression.” – Gloria Steinham
Many people describe themselves as perfectionists without really understanding what that term implies or how detrimental it can be.
World-renowned emotions researcher Brene Brown defines perfectionism as “a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, live perfectly, work perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”
Perfectionism is a mindset that is focused primarily on what other people think. Perfectionists believe that success…and, therefore, acceptance and respect…depends on unfailingly meeting expectations they set for themselves…and believe others have set for them. Because their self-identities and self-worth are tied to meeting those expectations, the bar that perfectionists set for themselves tends to be easily reachable…at least for them. This is to help ensure success and avoid failure and can result in what Brown refers to as life paralysis.
Life paralysis refers to all the opportunities we miss out on and dreams we fail to pursue because of a fear of imperfection, mistakes, and…thus…disappointing other people and looking bad in other people’s eyes. Perfectionists are very hesitant to come outside of their comfort zones and take risks because those risks might entail looking bad and, as a result, being judged by others to be incompetent or defective in some way. Therefore, since stepping outside our comfort zones is what makes improvement possible, perfectionists have a tough time developing or improving in any facet of their lives.
If you know you have perfectionist tendencies, challenge yourself today to do three things. First, pay careful attention to the number of people around you regularly making mistakes. Notice the people who spill or drop something, trip over a curb, mix up their words, or burn dinner. Then, notice how those people react to their mistake and, more importantly, how others react to the mistake that was made. What you will begin to see is that mistakes are simply one behavior at one point in time that are usually able to be rectified and rarely, if ever, indicative of an inherent personality flaw.
Second, try to do something you would like to do but haven’t tried because you were afraid you might fail. When you inevitably make a mistake, avoid viewing that mistake as an indicator of your intrinsic inadequacy. Instead, choose to view that mistake as a learning opportunity…then try again.
Finally, each time you catch yourself falling into a perfectionist mindset, remind yourself that your worth does not depend on others’ opinions. Remind yourself, too, about the concept of life paralysis and how boring life would be if you limited yourself only to things you can already do exceptionally well!