Shame is the birthplace of perfectionism.Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown
I’m a double winner of sorts…recovering co-dependent and a recovering perfectionist.
Codependents often are other-focused. We often care too much about what others think about us. We believe the lie that our value comes from outside ourselves so it’s important to us that we appear perfect.
As a codependent, my perfectionism has roots in approval seeking and a fear of being rejected, criticized or perceived as not good enough. I, like many people, grew up being praised for achievement and performance. Straight A’s, clean room, good manners, etc… my parents never had to worry about me. I was the “good one”. As time went on, I developed the belief that I had to earn my worth through accomplishment and that my worth was based on how well I performed. I got attention and affirmation for a “good job”. The chase for the gold star became addictive.
Some people think there is a positive side to perfectionism. That is not my experience. Brene Brown writes a lot about perfectionism in her books. I like how she explains the difference between “healthy striving” and perfectionism. Self-focused, healthy striving asks How can I improve? while the other-focused nature of perfectionism asks What will they think?
Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, live perfectly, work perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.
The frustrating reality is…there is no such thing as perfection. Shame, judgment and blame happen to everyone. When I experienced shame, I often would believe it was because I wasn’t perfect enough and try harder to achieve the unachievable or worse, not try at all. I have seen my perfectionism hold me back time and time again. The fear of making mistakes, failing and disappointing others kept me from moving forward or taking risks. A part of me (the “don’t try” part) still sometimes says don’t put yourself out there, if you do it “wrong” it’ll be too painful.
In CoDA, I’m learning to love the self. I’m learning that mistakes are how I learn. Self- compassion practice helps me cope with the feelings of fear that come up and the pain when I do make mistakes. More often now, I am choosing to feel the fear and do it anyway. I’m practicing “good is good enough”. Coming into CoDA was a huge step out of my comfort zone and it’s here where I am practicing and developing new skills with curiosity and gentleness. I try to remember that what others think of me is none of my business. I love the reminder that it’s progress not perfection that we seek.
A fun, new way I’m practicing imperfection is with CoDA’s new coloring book, Joy in the Journey-Recover in Color. As I am coloring, I am noticing my imperfection and acknowledging as I do it that it’s okay to relax and allow my hands to color loosely. No one is judging me. I’m doing this for me. I affirm as I play that there is no right or wrong way to do it. Outside the lines work helps me accept myself as I am. Perfectly imperfect.
I know that one of the biggest barriers to working towards mastery of something is perfectionism. Barriers can be broken down. The tools of the program and support of my fellow travelers on the journey are helping me.
I affirm that I am perfectly human, not a perfect human.