Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Shame-Based Roots of Perfectionism

The Shame-Based Roots of Perfectionism
As a recovering perfectionist, I know only too well how impossibly difficult life can be when striving to achieve the "perfect"...whatever. The perfect body. The perfect house. The whiter-than-white (whatever that colour might be) way of thinking.

In truth, one can never achieve perfection. There is always more to do to "get it right"...actually, to "get it just right".

So where does perfectionism come from? Why do so many of us strive for the unattainable?

Growing up, I was expected to do everything based on a standard that was not only unachievable, the standard itself kept getting unpredictably shifted.

My mother changed the rules of the game all the time. If I wanted to go out and play, I'd better be able to adopt whatever standard she set. But she was notorious for resetting the standard after the job was done.

Eventually, the unpredictability became predictable. I learned to anticipate the changes, then did the job even better than she could possibly expect. Meaning I had to do more and more work. Work I wasn't asked to do. But even that didn't yield permission to go out and play.

The lessons I learned:

I am not enough.

I will never be enough.

I am not worthy.

But I kept believing that if I could do a better job, be a better daughter, do more to make my mother happy (I am not enough), then I'd be able to go out and play (I would be worthy of play). And the real clincher, what I was really striving mother would love me (I would be worthy of love).

There is no doubt that perfectionism is rooted in shame.

In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection (p 55), author Brene Brown identifies where perfectionism is born:
"Where perfectionism exists, shame is always lurking. In fact, shame is the birthplace of perfectionism."
And don't confuse being your best with perfectionism. There's a huge difference between the two.

Striving to be your best does not have unworthiness or not-enoughness attached to it. Approval and acceptance is a given. Striving to be your best comes from a healthy sense of accomplishment. Of achievement. Of growth.

Striving to be your best comes from an inner place of growth, not an external one of looking for the acceptance of others.

Perfectionism is about trying to get approval and acceptance for achievement and performance. At it's core, perfectionism is really about minimizing the pain of judgment, of not being enough, of not being worthy. The basis for perfectionism is external. It's looking for love and acceptance from others.

With perfectionism, it's not enough to just fit in or keep up with the Jones', as the adage goes, which is another shame-based way of looking for acceptance. One has to be even better than just fitting in. Which is yet another shame-based way of saying, I am not enough. Crazymaking!

Can you see how perfectionism leads to even more shame? More judgment? More not-enoughness?

Perfectionism did not lead me to love. Or enoughness. Or worthiness. It led me to bloody exhaustion! And left unchecked, it could very well have led me to divorce court!

When I came to understand where my perfectionism was coming from, it was easier for me to recognize when it reared itself and why it was doing so in the moment. Like Dr Phil says, "You can't change what you don't acknowledge."

Well...change was definitely in the cards. And what better way to have acknowledgment come your way than to marry someone who has absolutely no perfectionistic characteristics whatsoever.

For me, when other areas in my life are not in control, my perfectionism surfaces. I get critical, especially of my not-so-perfectionistic husband. And it's not ever about hubby. It's always about me.

So yes, I am in recovery. Blessedly so. And it's not nearly the struggle it used to be. It's so much easier to be in recovery than it is trying to keep up with keeping everything perfect.

I am enough.

I will always be enough.

I am worthy. 

Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please be respectful. No profanity or hurtful remarks to others.