Marilyn Monroe was once quoted saying, “Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.” Throughout my career, I have worked with many individuals who embrace perfectionism. In fact, they hold on to it so tightly that it is wrapped around their identity and self-worth. This is where a red flag must be held up high in the air. Really, the concept of perfectionism is quite destructive. In fact, within society, a “type A personality” or telling someone they are the “perfect student” might seem like a good thing; but, before we decide that, let’s take a step back at look at it from a different lens.
Perfectionism is tied to feelings self-worth
According to author, Brene Brown, perfectionism is the belief that if we look perfect, live perfectly, act/perform perfectly or say the perfect thing, we are a good person and we will be accepted. Hence, if you have a flaw or shortcoming, you might perceive yourself to be bad or not capable of being accepted. So many of us have created a long list of worthiness prerequisites. For example: “I will be worthy when I lose 20 pounds or I’ll be worthy if everyone thinks I am a perfect parent.” Do you see how this is dangerous in the fact that your self-worth is contingent upon perfection? The reality of the matter is that we all have flaws and no one is perfect. Just because you make a mistake does not mean that you are a bad person- it only means that you are a person.
Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best
Many of the people I work with share that perfectionism allows them to have high standards for themselves. This is not a problem. In fact, it is great to have high goals and strive your best to get there with non-judgmental acceptance if you don’t totally reach them. We’ve all heard the quote, “reach for the moon and even if you miss you’ll land among the stars.” The problem is that in my experience, most people who identify as perfectionistic tend to set standards for themselves that are unrealistic with intention. Hence, it can become a vicious circle of failure and lowered self-esteem.
Perfectionism does not allow room vulnerability
Vulnerability may be the one of the keys to being an authentic person as well as the building meaningful connection. In this case, vulnerability entails: uncertainty, risk, or emotional exposure. The fear of being vulnerable (i.e., not perfect and showing one’s true self) may limit the fullness of life experiences. For instance, this is seen in romantic relationships where someone may be scared to be hurt by their partner. These walls may be an obstacle that get in the way of love, happiness, joy, and connection. With this, perfectionism is truly a barrier to being vulnerable, which might be the core of significant human experiences.
So, it is possible that being imperfect is actually a gift that is wrapped around growth, confidence, love, authenticity, and connection. And thus, the true beauty in life may been seen through the lens of imperfections itself. Which lens are you looking through?
Written by Danielle Wahl, MA, LPCC