I recently listened to a fabulous podcast with Brene Brown on Tim Ferriss’s show. If you haven’t heard about her, she talks about vulnerability, shame, authenticity, belonging and courage. She has a number of books but my favourite would have to be The Gifts of Imperfection.
Anyway, within the podcast Brene talks about our desire to be perfect and this drive for perfectionism. I know that I am guilty of striving too hard for things to be perfect and have met many women with endometriosis where I have noticed that we seem to share this trend. We often drive ourselves harder because we want to come as close to perfect as we can get. We might aim to be perfect with our husband/partner, our career or business, how we look, how we treat others or even as simply as what we eat. The more we can tick all the boxes within our lives, the better we feel. I know many women believe that if they eat the perfect diet, then they will be able to manage their endometriosis better.
What I found really interesting within the podcast is how Brene describes this perfectionism as a protective mechanism and a sense of proving our worth. On the one hand we believe that if we are as close to perfect as we can be, then we are less likely to be criticised or judged badly by others. It is taken from exterior validation and tends to be around how we look, like if we are skinny enough, pretty enough or have what we believe to be a “perfect body”.
I know that this has certainly held true for me in the last year. Being on summits, speaking in front of an audience and putting myself out there, has brought up many thoughts around my appearance. It always felt superficial but I can see where it was all coming from now. I believed that if I looked a certain way, or gained the tick of approval from others that I had the right body, hair, make-up etc, then I would be less likely to be criticised or that I would gain their acceptance. The funny thing is, that most genuine people don’t really care so much about how we look but are more interested in the message that we share.
The other side of the drive to perfectionism is often about wanting to prove our self worth or worthiness to have something. I have seen this with many of my clients who are students, run their own businesses or have high paying jobs. There is a need to over deliver to prove that they have the right to what they earn or do. Students will often want to get straight A’s for everything to validate their own desire to be seen as smart or that they are qualified enough to pursue a career after their training.
The drive for perfectionism is described as something we often do for the approval or acceptance of others and that perhaps on some level we don’t truly believe we are worthy or enough as we are, without over-delivering or working exceptionally hard.
The simple example of being super strict with our diet is one I often see. Women believe that if they are “super strict” then they are worthy or allowed to finally feel better. That there has to be some form of restriction or struggle to validate that they deserve to be well. Once again, I can totally relate to this way of thinking as I have felt this for myself too. Over the years I learned that the drive for perfectionism is worse due to the stress it causes, than simply allowing some room for imperfection within our diet.
So, where does this leave us?
What if we are always going to try to validate ourselves through what we do or how we act? How can we reduce stress caused by a need to prove ourselves and our worth?
What I came to realise is that so much of that need for validation comes from our own selves, rather than anyone outside of us. There is no single person that is perfect and every single one of us has flaws or traits we are not proud of. We are all ashamed or hiding things we feel others would judge us for – some are superficial things based on our looks, while others are perhaps things we have done or said in our past.
Other people are far more likely to accept us for who we are, when we accept ourselves. Have you ever noticed that when celebrities simply state the obvious about their behaviour or their looks, then suddenly people lose interest? It is only when we try to hide things or deny our own imperfections that people really seek to uncover or judge them.
So, I am going to embrace my imperfections and come back to a place of knowing that all that I am is enough, that all I am doing is enough and that ultimately we are all merely humans co-existing in an imperfect world.
Care to join me?