“It’s always helpful to remember that when perfectionism is driving, shame is riding shotgun.”
— Brené Brown,
PERFECTIONISM is at the root of many evils of unconsciousness that grow great trees of unacknowledged shame in us. Let me attempt to illustrate.
If we rail against feedback, which may or may not represent the truth, or maybe partial truth, we have a feeling that the feedback is well-intentioned, but there’s something jarring in it. It’s the feeling of shame. Like, “I should be over this. I shouldn’t struggle with this… but I am struggling with this. It’s driving me crazy.”
Or, if we hold ourselves to such high standards — them that we’ve usually reached — but find we no longer can — our perfectionism has turned against us and our shame is now prominent. That’s because our purpose has been shaken somehow. I’m talking our over-abiding purpose of life — an existential purpose we all have: life has to be meaningful. Shame drives that purpose down within us.
Perfectionism is an often unconscious living within a lie. It’s never helpful in a sustainable way, though it will undergird the achievement of amazing results. Then, when we’ve realised these results mean much less than we wanted them to, we’re inconsolably disillusioned.
Shame is that horrid reality that can only be addressed as we face it in vulnerability. In vulnerability shame can no longer stand as it is; it has to be transformed through truth to a grounded acceptance. Acceptance is always liberating, freeing us to joy.
The perfect answer to driving perfectionism out of town is twofold: awareness of shame and our purpose beyond it, through vulnerability.
If we’re happy to explore our laments we’ll soon discover our expectations are set in something that’s unrealistic. Such a perfection intuits shame. As Brown suggests, perfection’s close assistant is shame. What else would drive us to an unrealistic locale of person? But when we come to accept the place life’s brought us to be in, we’re better situated to consider life from a neutral perspective.
Driving perfection out of town means turning the gun on shame through intentional vulnerability. The more we embrace our imperfections of brokenness, the less shame we cavort with, and the better our experience of reality.
As perfection holds the reins, with shame riding shotgun, life is miserable.
If shame rides shotgun for perfectionism, vulnerability rides shotgun with acceptance. One is bondage; the other, freedom.
The way through brokenness to wholeness is the self-acceptance of grace through vulnerability. But, perfectionism takes us away from, not toward, joy.
Joy can only be experienced when we accept the realness of our reality.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.