PERFECTIONISM ERASES VULNERABILITY & SHAME
Perfectionism erases the opportunity for connections. All relationships require connection. Connection can only happen when someone risks vulnerability. There are many ways to risk vulnerability and the uncertainty of what might happen.
People suffer from perfectionism because it is exhausting. Perfectionism is all about extinguishing the fears of anxiety by getting everything possible right. Perfectionism means being obsessive and needing control to get things exactly right. This is why perfectionists are great employees.
Perfectionists are often hyper-vigilant which makes it very hard to be playful or have fun. Working to reduce perfectionism within yourself means there will be more possibilities for enjoyment. I suspect many perfectionists don’t allow themselves to experience the pleasure of orgasam because it involves a serious amount of letting go.
Overcoming perfectionism means being awkward & taking risks. Here are just a few examples:
- I am willing to say ‘I love you’ first.
- I am willing to initiate sex and cope with the possibility of being rejected even though my history has been to wait for the safety of you initiating.
- I will tell you I didn’t finish college even though I’m scared you will think less of me.
- I will share with my best friend that my husband is an alcoholic and that I’m exhausted.
- I will tell you I’ve pushed and shoved my partner when we’ve argued, more than once.
- You are one of my best friends and I will risk disagreement with you because I don’t think smoking pot everyday is a good idea.
How do we stop ourselves from being authentic and vulnerable to share more from our dark sides? Shame is a huge factor. Shame can stop therapy dead in its’ tracks. It is often the biggest obstacle I encounter in my work with people.
Perfectionism means being terrified of shame. “If I get everything right then I’ll never be shamed.” Then obsessiveness takes over demanding that everything be perfect.
Perfectionism means being stuck in vast deserts of silence, ashamed of our dark sides, when it is ordinary to have a dark side. One of the hardest things about being human is learning to live with our humanity.
On the “Emotions” page of this web site I say that the antidote to shame is belonging. How is it possible to belong? Only if we are willing to embrace uncertainty, risk being vulnerable and tell our stories. This is exactly why Alcoholics Anonymous is such a successful organization. It offers the experience of belonging to people who are deeply buried in shame.
Avoiding and deflecting because of feeling ashamed or worthless is practically the norm in our culture. So people break up by text. Perfectionism means avoiding encounters where there could be a problem; “because I don’t want to be yelled at.” Perfectionism means you lack courage to deal with hard things and so you take the easy way out.
I often ask clients to tell their stories to someone else besides me. Perfectionism means there is a reluctance because they do not value being vulnerable. Unfortunately vulnerability is seen as weakness instead of a position that requires courage. Authenticity requires stories from the dark side, intimacy builds from risking authenticity. Instead we bury ourselves in defense and become isolated.
When was the last time you told someone about one of the hard parts of your life? Perfectionism means you don’t like giving up control of knowing what will happen. “If I tell you my shameful story will you reject me?” Perfectionism means holding your cards very close to your chest.
The irony is that sharing the story is the only way to reduce the shame. So the secrets of shame evolve into the trap of disconnection because we don’t want to risk being vulnerable. Overcoming perfectionism means sharing.
Not being vulnerable helps us to feed our personal myth of perfectionism. So many people I encounter struggle with the kooky idea that anyone can be perfect. This is just not possible. Perfectionism means accepting our imperfections as part of reality, really matters.
Perfectionism and allowing shame to keep you silent really prevents connection to other people. I became a social worker because I grew up in a family that was very silent and bad at connections. Social work is all about restoring connections. Connections develop out of risking vulnerability.
Fighting perfectionism means letting go of who you wish you were and being who you are.
Perfectionism means embracing your mistakes and being able to say them out loud that you are able to be more connected with yourself. Then you will continue to grow by sharing these stories with others (without a chronic air of disappointment) with the poignancy of vulnerability and authenticity which will lead to connection.
On the “Communication” page I have a list of eighty questions to help improve the sharing of stories and vulnerabilities. The only way to connect is to be willing to have your imperfections seen by others.
Overcoming perfectionism means giving up the idea that you’re not good enough – that’s a model based in the shame of your imperfections. Wade into the water of being ordinary by taking ownership of both your good and bad parts.
Vulnerability is the opposite of manipulation. We live in a culture where people love the certainty of manipulating others. Perfectionism means reducing risks by controlling what happens.
You can even consider perfectionism as a way to manipulate yourself which is why a perfectionist is so harsh with themselves.
Perfectionism can include reducing uncertainty by playing any of the three roles of victim, rescuer or persecutor (see “Relationship Triangles” page) in the Drama Triangle because you instinctively know how to flip around in the familiarity of these roles.
Perfectionism can mean hiding out by using manipulation to keep people away. “I only want you to see me doing everything just right.” Overcoming perfectionism means accepting the disconcerting experience of vulnerability & greater self-awareness.
I was inspired to write this page by Dr. Brene Brown, a researcher at the University of Houston. She has given two TED talks that are both are posted below. She is very special and will inspire you to take new directions in your life.
TED offers a website that is a clearing house for knowledge and ideas from the “world’s most inspired thinkers.” http://www.ted.com/talks. Please take the time to view these two TED presentations on perfectionism.
In the first video on perfectionism Brenee Brown gives evidence for the fact that our culture is losing tolerance for vulnerability. She lists six things that I find both very alarming and very accurate:
- Joy easily turns into foreboding.
- Disappointment has become a lifestyle.
- Low grade disconnection is pervasive.
- Perfection is the 200 pound shield.
- Extremism (both in politics and religion).
- We numb ourselves (obesity, debt, addiction).
I would add a seventh: More and more people manipulating each other to prevent connection in relationships. The manipulation is not with nasty intent, it is only about keeping people from really knowing your life & dark side.
Movie on Perfectionism
Black Swan (2010)
Movie captures the toll perfectionism can exact. Natalie Portman won Best Actress for her portrayal of a ballerina.
Movie on Shame
Get Low (2009)
Robert Duvall plans his own funeral while he is alive. It is very slow paced. He uses the occasion to acknowledge his profound shame.
Book by Dr. Brown:
One Helpful Links:
This link is a New York Times article on the importance of mistakes.