There I was, sitting in my employer’s office, knowing the panic was coming. It came like a strong undertow, sucking me into the crashing wave I knew would overtake me. And there it went… I lost it.
This was the worst moment of my entire life.
But first, let me back up to give you a little context of how I got here.
I’ve never been good at accepting any form of criticism – ‘constructive’ or not. Some people I know feed off of it. But for me, any time I sensed failure, the harsh inner critic (or “shame-bully” as I now call it) would pop up in my head and say in a seething voice, “See, you can’t do it all. You’re not enough”.
It would typically lead to panic, because I was trying to hold everything all together. To look perfect even when I messed up. It left me in tears.
Not the good “release it all out” kind of tears, either – the kind of tears that make me feel less than, the kind that leave me going, “What is WRONG with me. Why can’t I get it together”?
And so the tears came, in my office, with my boss. So not only did I feel stupid & ridiculous for messing up… now I felt stupid for crying about it.
Has this ever happened to you??
The anxiety I felt wasn’t just in my work. It was WORSE in my relationships.
If someone was mad at me, I’d do anything to fix the problem. To know we were “O.K.” that I didn’t rock the boat too much with my neediness or preferences.
Perfectionism would swoop into to “save the day”.
If I just worked harder, was more reliable & more impressive… I’d never be criticized.
If I just looked better, was more attractive, & always had something funny to say… I’d never be rejected.
If I just appeared like I was in total control of my life, then maybe would feel more confident in my choices, more secure in my relationships, and free from this debilitating feeling that I “wasn’t enough”.
But perfectionism, performance anxiety, and vowing to “get it together” paralyzed me.
If you’ve ever:
- Avoided that songwriters round because you weren’t confident in what you’ve created….
- Kept quiet around your friends or at your job because you were afraid you’d say something stupid…
- Left a relationship – or if it seems people always leave you – because you aren’t “good enough”….
You might be struggling with shame, which is the root of perfectionism.
When I realized shame (the feeling of not being “good enough”) & perfectionism (all my efforts to feel “good enough”) was actually getting in the way of my work, relationships, and overall wellbeing… I went to a counselor to figure out my options.
What I learned in counseling radically changed everything.
Something changed in me. Not only do I have the tools I need to know what to do next… I understand why this is happening to me – which was the biggest gift of all.
Now, I have freedom to act in a new way, to challenge those inner shame-bully voices.
Now, I can take back control, and apply practical steps to move closer to the confident, secure woman I want to be.
Today, I want to share this secret with you. I can’t keep it to myself any longer, because when you come to therapy and sit across from me wondering, “What is WRONG with me? WHY can’t I keep it together??”…
I want you to know, you are not alone. And it doesn’t have to be this way forever.
It’s been a while since that first counseling appointment, and I’ve made it to the other side. As a counselor in the Greater Nashville area, I now help people just like you (and just like me) get through life’s challenges – helping many stop being a perfectionist, and love their life again.
This is the one idea that changed everything for me:
Giving myself permission to fail will actually help me succeed.
Dr. Brene Brown says the shame-based punishment is great for short terms behavior change – but it’s also great at crushing any healthy, long-lasting, positive change.
Mostly, shame and perfectionism results in:
- Self-sabotaging behaviors
You know this to be true if you’ve ever shamed yourself for “being bad” in a diet.
You might be thinking, “Wait, Carly. If I let myself “fail”, won’t I actually FAIL?”
And I’m going to explain why, by breaking it down for you with these 3 secrets I’ve learned to stop being a perfectionist, and actually LOVE my life:
1. Give yourself permission to be your best self, not your “perfect self”.
Brene Brown says, “Perfectionism is other-focused – ‘What will they think?’ Healthy Striving is self-focused—‘How can I improve?’ ”
Perfectionism is about protecting yourself from the harsh judgment of others, or from the self-deprecating voice of judgment towards yourself. And the fruit of perfectionism is burnout, resentment, and self-sabotaging behaviors (procrastination, anyone? Just me?)
Healthy Striving is about giving yourself permission to “fail” and getting curious about what happened, then adding the self-kindness that comes with accepting what happened. The fruit of being your best self is that you get to reflect and take steps to grow. It’s about your growth, not what anyone thinks about you.
Healthy Striving isn’t motivated by shame. It’s motivated by character growth.
Specifically, personal growth characterized by self-compassion and curiosity, which lead to self-acceptance and wisdom for next time.
Stop second guessing your choices and feeling insecure in your relationships, because to the fear of judgment or criticism from others – instead, practice healthy striving.
* Try This: Practice applying Healthy Striving with these two steps:
- Get curious and ask yourself these questions: “What do I actually want to accomplish? What is coming up for me? Do I want to look impressive to others (or to myself?)”
- Give yourself permission to fail, by incorporating awareness (this is where I am, now) and self-kindness (this is where I am, and it’s ok. And now I know for next time.)
2. Give yourself permission to be “messy”.
Perfectionism is paralyzing. Instead of pushing you forward and getting your voice out there, it will actually lead to procrastination, and never getting it done.
Dr. Brene Brown calls this, “Life Paralysis”:
“All the opportunities we miss because we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that is ‘imperfect’. It’s also all of the dreams we don’t follow because of our deep fear of failing, making mistakes, or disappointing others. It’s terrifying to risk when you’re a perfectionist because your self-worth is on the line.”
A “messy” product is better than the project that never gets published because it wasn’t “good enough”.
Just get your voice out there!
You won’t make a difference if you are silent!
Sure one person might email you back with judgment and criticism for the error, or try to correct you because they think they know it all…
But never getting your work out their ROBS people of your special talent, gifts, and unique contribution. The truth is, you know more than you think, and one spelling error won’t stop the impact of what you have to offer or share with the world.
* Try This: Practice this Daily Affirmation: “I am robbing other people by keeping my unique contribution to myself until it’s “perfect”.
3. Give yourself permission to show up.
A friend once told me, “strive for connection, over impression”.
It’s better to show up for someone imperfectly, than not at all.
This means when you’re stuck doing all the little things you “have to do” (cleaning your house, making sure the dinner is prepared fresh every single night, never forgetting someone’s birthday or favorite meal)…
… * Try This: Ask Yourself: “Am I trying to look impressive to someone else, or can I just show up?
Own your mistakes and move into forgiveness, rather than toxic shame or pride. Just show up.
Own when you realize you can’t do it all and need help, moving into humility rather than toxic shame or pride. Just show up.
Show up for others. Show up for your kids. Show up for your coworkers. Show up for your spouse. Show up for – gasp – YOURSELF.
Stop allowing perfectionism and shame to rule your life by giving yourself permission to fail.
This will give you the:
- Courage to SHOW UP and actually LIVE your life!
- Confidence to get things DONE without always second-guessing yourself.
- Security you long for in relationships, living free from the perceived judgment of others
Giving yourself permission to fail will actually help you succeed – and help you realize you are enough, just as you are.
If you’ve related to anything in this article and would like to know more, I’d encourage you to talk to a counselor today!
If you are local in Nashville, TN, give me a call! I provide counseling for women and teen girls at Cypress Counseling Group, in Brentwood, TN, and at The Refuge Center for Counseling, in Franklin, TN.