Have you ever been afraid of making a mistake or being seen as “stupid” or “lame”? Are you riddled with anxiety about “messing up”? Do you think that if you “screw up” that makes you a failure? Are you constantly seeking approval from others at the cost of approving of yourself?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, then you suffer from emotionally crippling perfectionism. Perfectionism is one of the greatest self-esteem robbers. That is because perfectionism is not just trying to be your best. In fact, it is not about being you at all.
Rather, it is all about how you think you should be. It is too focused on what other people think. It is all based on evaluation and judgment instead of on self-love and acceptance. When people are perfectionistic, they believe that unless they achieve certain standards, they are inadequate, defective, and — even worse — unworthy.
Perfectionism does not just affect your sense of well-being and your emotional health. Over time, anxious, perfectionistic thinking also takes a toll on your physical health, and is linked to a variety of illnesses and diseases including cancer, heart disease, gastrointestinal disorders, cataract surgery and immune system deficiencies. Mental illness such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and body dysmorphia is also an outgrowth of perfectionism.
David Burns, CBT psychologist and author, describes perfectionism as an impossible goal. According to Burns, a perfectionist is someone “whose standards are high beyond reach or reason” and “who strains compulsively and unremittingly toward impossible goals and who measures their own worth entirely in terms of productivity and accomplishment. For these people the drive to excel can only be self-defeating”.
How about you? Do you suffer from the need to be perfect? Do you find your goals too demanding and impossibly unreachable? Are you ready to learn how to shift from being perfect to embracing how to be perfectly you?
I recall something a perfectionistic client who was a lab technician said to me many years back, which still haunts me today. When I asked her why she was so afraid of doing poorly at her job, she raised her hand high over my coffee table and poignantly explained, “I have had this many failures—and I can’t afford one more.” “Wow,” I responded, “that’s quite a large pile. Can you name some of them?” Interestingly enough, she could think of only two, but they loomed larger than life and defined her as a “failure.”
Shame researcher Brené Brown (2010) draws a correlation between shame and perfectionism. She regards shame as the underlying driver of perfectionism. Shame and low self-esteem are exquisitely intertwined. At the root of shame is an all-pervasive sense of unworthiness, being unlikable and undeserving, seeing yourself as fundamentally flawed and even bad.