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Seeing Perfectionism in Hindsight: Why Couldn’t I Have Figured This Out Sooner?

“Why couldn’t I have figured this out sooner?”

I bet that you’ve said this and you’re in good company. Hindsight is so much more clear.

You couldn’t have known that you’d fall and break your leg on the stairs. You couldn’t have predicted a car coming out of nowhere and slamming into you. What seemed like a simple headache turned out to be something much worse, but you pride yourself on not being a worrier — so that never occurred to you.

You’re not clairvoyant.

But broken legs or brain tumors are tangible problems. What about the problems that are part of how you handle life? What about problems that don’t seem like problems at all? What if you’re calling something a strength when it’s actually causing some problems that you can’t see?

That’s the case with perfectionism and invulnerability.

“I’m fine. Really — it’s all good…”

It’s hard to figure out that these traits are actually hurting you. No one is particularly worried about you. You’ve got great friends and lots of them. You’re successful in your career. You’ve got your emotions in check; you analyze and stay mentally clear. Maybe someone you’ve allowed to get a little close has said, “You know, you don’t stop for anything. How long has it been since you’ve taken some time for yourself?” But you’ve laughed it off. “I’m fine. I wouldn’t know how to relax anyway. I’m not good at it.”

You don’t necessarily see the erosion of any joy. You’re busy getting things done, and don’t notice how hard it’s becoming to laugh out loud, or see how hard you have to work to avoid your own sadness.

Why do you not see it as a problem? Because perfectionism and invulnerability have been the solutions you were taught and what you believe keeps you safe. But in actuality, they aren’t keeping you safe. They’re keeping you locked up.

And when the time comes, when your own loneliness and despair catches up with you — and it will — then you can see the problem for what it is. You can begin to realize the cost of you resisting, of you hiding — of you, looking perfect.

Getting to the courage of vulnerability…

Brené Brown has a new Netflix special where she stresses once again that there can be no true courage without vulnerability. It’s funny, to the point, and very moving. She emphasizes what her research and her own changed life has taught her: you cannot be brave without facing uncertainty, risk or emotional exposure.  And without vulnerability, you cannot experience the deepest connection of love and the intense joy that losing yourself in that moment can bring you. Yes, you will fail. You will struggle. And you will open yourself up to hurt. But you’ll be living out your imperfect life with intention and awareness.

You can figure this out. Watch her special or her Ted Talk.  Hers is a vital message for all of us — and almost 40 million people have viewed the latter.

It only takes one step at a time…

So, why couldn’t you have figured this out sooner? Why have you spent so much time believing that you were supposed to build the perfect-looking life?

There could be many reasons. What I do know is if, in this very moment, you’re beginning to allow tender emotions to surface, if you’re admitting fatigue, disappointment, or fear, if you’re allowing the slightest bit of questioning to arise — then you’re living in this moment differently than you have before. And that first step can lead to wonderful things.

Remember, have compassion for yourself. And work on acceptance of all of you — even the part that wasn’t ready to be vulnerable or wasn’t prepared for a sense of being exposed and even rejected. That part of you needs your acceptance as well.

You can’t know something before you know it. It takes the right time — the right moment– when you can risk what you’ve feared.



Please confidentially email me at if you experience or have questions about perfectly hidden depression or perfectionism. Or you can read more of my posts here on Psych Central or on my own website.

You can hear more about PHD and many other topics by listening to my podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret RutherfordAnd my own book Perfectly Hidden Depression will be published by New Harbinger on November 1st! More info to come…

Seeing Perfectionism in Hindsight: Why Couldn’t I Have Figured This Out Sooner?

Dr. Margaret Rutherford

Dr. Margaret Rutherford is a clinical psychologist who's practiced in Fayetteville, Arkansas for twenty-five years. Her passion for researching Perfectly Hidden Depression began in 2014 and she's currently writing a book to be published next year by New Harbinger. Her work has been featured on Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, The Mighty and The Good Men Project, among others. She's the author of "Marriage Is Not For Chickens", a blogger (Https:// and podcaster (SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford). She welcomes your questions and comments --

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APA Reference
Rutherford, D. (2019). Seeing Perfectionism in Hindsight: Why Couldn’t I Have Figured This Out Sooner?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Apr 2019
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