Perfectionism – A 20-Ton Shield

Perfectionism is the 20-ton shield we drag around to keep from being hurt.

In truth, it keeps us from being seen. ~ Brene Brown, PhD

silver knight helmet
Photo by Pixabay

Today I received an email from a company wanting to sell me skin care products. They informed me it is International Women’s Day…I’m not super excited about their 20% off offer. What would excite me much more would be laws put in place protecting women who are in abusive relationships and are afraid to leave. Or, a society that doesn’t pressure women to, in Brown’s words, do it all, do it perfectly, and never let them see you sweat.

I learned to be a perfectionist at a fairly young age. Growing up with a highly critical parent taught me (unconsciously) that only perfection came close to pleasing her. Consequently, as you can imagine, there was a lot of anxiety involved.

To be fair, mom was an adult child of an alcoholic (ACOA) who never chose to get treatment. It was still frowned upon in those days. Nevertheless, subconsciously, I believed perfectionism was my friend and safeguard. However, it proved to be the perpetrator of many negative things in my life.

Brene Brown, PhD and researcher at University of Houston

What is Perfectionism?

Psychiatrist David Burns describes perfectionists as those who set and pursue impossibly high standards and who measure their self-worth entirely in terms of their achievements. Those who struggle with perfectionism are very critical of their own (and sometimes others’) mistakes, and tend to regard any misstep as unacceptable. Perfectionism is associated with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and relationship problems.

 Zoë Laksman, Psy.D, C.Psych and Laura Clarridge, Ph.D. 

In addition, perfectionism is linked to suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

woman in black blazer holding smartphone
Photo by Anna Shvets

Signs – Feeling the Weight of Perfectionism

Actually, it’s little wonder that women so easily fall into perfectionism as one of the most common responses to shame. We are constantly striving to fulfill unrealistic and competing ideals of being the perfect mother, wife, businesswoman, friend, caregiver, or student, and having the perfect body, home, children, partner, education or career.

Furthermore, I can add being the perfect Christian wife, mother, leader.

Perfectionism is not only a problem because it is driven by shame and sets us up to fail, but also because it puts our sense of worthiness in the hands of others, as something to be negotiated on a daily basis. The constant pleasing and performing that perfectionism demands is what Brown refers to as the “hustle for worthiness.”

Zoë Laksman, Psy.D, C.Psych and Laura Clarridge, Ph.D. 

The following are specific things you can look for in your life:

  • while perfectionism may look great at work, you’re racked with anxiety or depression
  • you take procrastination to the extreme – if you can’t do it perfectly, you don’t want to do it
  • you feel full-fledged anxiety at being the center of attention in social settings
  • fear of failure prevents you from trying new things
  • you have trouble forming long-term relationships – you either have to be right all the time or you remain aloof
  • it’s too difficult to reveal any mistakes, fears, or worries to close friends or family
  • you have trouble playing

Have you recognized yourself? It’s ok; accept it. Just know – there’s hope for all of us.

Photo by Jill Wellington

Help and Hope For the Perfectionist

Thankfully, perfectionism doesn’t have a life sentence. There are ways to change our ingrained negative self-talk that feeds perfectionism. Initially, it may require therapy to teach you and help you begin on the path to healing. However, there IS a path and others have lighted the way for us.

For instance, practice imperfection in small ways – like leaving a dirty dish in the sink overnight. Next, planning some fun activities…I know, it’s difficult. Another example, which you may have to build up to, is going shopping without makeup. Moreover, perfectionism can be very difficult on relationships. Therefore, find a good enough compromise that you can both live with.

In her research, Brene Brown found that the greatest cure for perfectionism is vulnerability. Unsurprisingly, this is a difficult thing for perfectionists who are fearful of our shame being exposed. Fortunately, it happens to be something that she has seen proven, both personally and in her research. Below I included a link for you to watch a video of Brown. In it, she explains why vulnerability is what we need to heal.

eyeglass with gold colored frames
Photo by John-Mark Smith

Does God Need Us To Be Perfect?

In a word, no.

Furthermore, we couldn’t be if we wanted to be. It isn’t possible; we aren’t even capable.

But God, in His abundant grace and mercy, sent Jesus to nullify any need for us to continue striving for perfection.

Hebrews 10:11-16, ESV states clearly:

11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ[a] had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. 15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” 17 then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” 18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

God Himself will perfect His children. We can lay down the 20-ton shield! Allow yourself a deep breath of freedom. Then we can fall down before the Lord in thanksgiving.

Amen and Amen.

Please take time to watch this powerful video.

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