It’s time to come out of hiding and face the truth.
Perfectionism is a defense mechanism.
For years, I viewed my tendency for perfectionism as an asset. Who doesn’t want to do everything with excellence and strive for the best?
In reality, perfectionism held me back, blinding me from reaching the potential I kept hidden. Somewhere along the way, I learned that it wasn’t safe to not be my best.
Perfectionism became a hiding place that protected me from pain and being hurt. Do I know the moment or recall an incident?
If any one person, my mother or dad, caused the trauma that bolted me into hiding, I can’t say for sure. To do so feels like blaming others for something that lies deep within me.
There are signs that a problem exists.
Digging deeper into my life as a perfectionist, I found some warning signs that pointed to how perfectionism protects.
1. You find yourself being judgmental of others. Wait. Isn’t that just honesty about what you do or do not see in others? I never saw this warning sign in myself until recently. One day, I heard myself and listened. My comments did nothing to uplift or support. Rather, in some insidious way, my critical remarks exposed something I couldn’t identify and was afraid to explore.
2. You feel terrified of failure. Everyone I worked with thought I was a compulsive organizer. On every personality test, that tendency came out strong. Until the day, I decided to answer from my heart and not what I thought would be the “right” answers. I had been hiding my messy creative self behind an aura of tidiness. Because, well, in my home growing up, you made up your bed and always cleaned your mess, always.
3. You don’t feel good enough. When you don’t feel good enough, you have two choices. Give up. Or you can work yourself into exhaustion, trying to convince yourself and everyone around you that “you’ve got this.”
4. You stress, even about little things. I can agonize over a “look” someone gave me for days, replaying the circumstances a thousand times. Second-guessing and over-thinking every decision begins to border on obsession—a persistent loop that refuses to leave my brain.
5. You get on the defense easily. I always thought I was just sensitive. The slightest criticism sent my head spinning. This played out in often taking the blame for things over which I never had any control. Nothing I did would have changed the outcome. That didn’t stop me from thinking I could and that I had failed.
It’s time to come out of hiding.
Anyone who understands these behaviors and the consequences knows that you don’t instantly switch off the perfection switch. I see the transformation as continually opening doors and my heart.
“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.”
—Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
Over time, I have challenged perfectionism by:
1. Opening up to my feelings. A woman in my church confronted me once, criticizing me for not ever sharing myself. Naturally, I took offense. Who was she to demand, opening my heart to her—or anyone? What I realized later is that I also hid my feelings from those I loved deeply. As I opened that door, I learned how I never gave people a chance to help me be, well, me.
2. Striving to be more in the moment. My sister died tragically at 32-years-old. When my brother died suddenly, I became terrified of dying. I didn’t want my parents to lose another child. Driving, I would clench the steering wheel and focus intently on the road and the drivers around me. That’s not a bad thing, but the clenching also clenched my spirit. That door took a while to find a crack. Personal illness and other losses made me realize this moment mattered most. I best live it well and joyfully.
3. Becoming more compassionate to others. My compassion for others emerged as an acceptance of others and my own imperfections. Brene Brown reminds us that “being imperfect, authentic, and vulnerable is a function of being human.”
4. Reminding myself that “I am good enough.” Perfect does not exist. If I waited for perfection, I would never write this post. I would never take a photograph, write a poem, or sing a song. Life is too short to wait for perfect.
“I believed my creations had to be important and excellent in order to exist and be shared,
and I doubted my ability to reach that impossibly high standard.”
—Elin Lööw, Portraits of Fulfillment
How many more doors must I open to come out of hiding?
I don’t know. Every day, I summon my courage to do the things I fear the most. Not because they are hard, but because I must expose my vulnerability. I find that courage Brown described, choosing to create. And I open one more door.
“If you feel something calling you to dance or write or paint or sing, please refuse to worry about whether you’re good enough.
Just do it. Be generous. Offer a gift to the world that no one else can offer: yourself.”