Getting back to Brene Brown's great little book 'The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.' Today's post is on Guidepost #2: Cultivating Self-Compassion - Letting Go of Perfectionism.
The author says there is a distinct correlation between shame and perfectionism. In fact, she says, shame is the birthplace of perfectionism. Most people don't want to admit to shame, and the problem is, when we don't claim shame, it claims us. One of the ways it sneaks into our lives is through perfectionism.
She also dispels a couple myths about perfectionism. On p. 56...
- Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It's a shield. 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 taking flight.
- Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval or acceptance. Most perfectionists were raised being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule-following, people-pleasing, appearance, sports). Somewhere along the way, we adopt 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?
So, what is perfectionism? Well, she has a rather wordy definition, but it's pretty good. On p. 57...
- Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.
- Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because there is no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal. Additionally, perfectionism is more about perception -- we want to be perceived as perfect. Again, this is unattainable - there is no way to control perception, regardless of how much time and energy we spend trying.
- Perfectionism is addictive because when we invariably do experience shame, judgment, and blame, we often believe it's because we weren't perfect enough. So rather than questioning the faulty logic of perfectionism, we become even more entrenched in our quest to live, look, and do everything just right.
- Feeling shamed, judged, and blamed (and the fear of these feelings) are realities of the human experience. Perfectionism actually increases the odds that we'll experience these painful emotions and often leads to self-blame: It's my fault. I'm feeling this way because "I'm not good enough."
This was an good chapter - certainly relevant to my life - but I felt it was a little weak in the 'how to overcome perfectionism' part. Maybe I just don't understand it so well yet. She says, "To overcome perfectionism, we need to be able to acknowledge our vulnerabilities to the universal experiences of shame, judgment, and blame; develop shame resilience; and practice self-compassion." Or, as she says on p. 58, "Exploring our fears and changing our self-talk are two critical steps in overcoming perfectionism."
An example of how to change self-talk is... Instead of thinking, "Ugh. Nothing fits. I'm fat and ugly. I'm ashamed of how I look. I need to be different than I am now to be worthy of love and belonging;" A healthy-striving self-talk would sound like, "I want this for me. I want to feel better and be healthier. The scale doesn't dictate if I'm loved and accepted. If I believe that I'm worthy of love and respect now, I will invite courage, compassion, and connection into my life. I want to figure this out for me. I can do this."
She says self-compassion has three elements: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Below are some abbreviated definitions of each:
- Self-kindness: Being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.
- Common humanity: Common humanity recognizes that suffering and feelings of personal inadequacy are part of the shared human experience - something we all go through rather than something that happens to "me" alone.
- Mindfulness: Taking a balanced approach to negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. Mindfulness requires that we not "over-identify" with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negativity.
Personally, maybe this isn't so much a weak chapter, but it's something I still struggle with quite a bit. Just glancing back over the chapter to type this out brought some more of it to light, so maybe it simply needs to soak in a little more. There isn't a quick fix for learning to love and accept ourselves (if we struggle with that). However, I liked this quote from Christopher K. Germer...
A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day.
A string of such moments can change the course of your life.
Here's to a few moments of self-compassion...