creative joy, purple flowers

On Monday we talked about embracing imperfection, and the fact that the pursuit of perfectionism pervades all areas of our lives, if we let it.

Since then, the topic of perfectionism has still been swirling in my mind. Because so many of us get caught up in striving for a flawless something or everything and live with a fear of making mistakes. Which feeds our negative body image and negative view of ourselves. It holds us to ridiculous expectations, sabotages our success and even erodes our happiness.

In fact, studies have shown, according to researcher Brené Brown in The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, that perfectionism can lead to “depression, anxiety, addiction and life-paralysis.”

(Add eating disorders to that; of course it’s a complex combination of factors, but perfectionism has been linked to EDs and is a trait that many people with EDs have.)

Life-paralysis refers to lost opportunities and lost dreams. It’s “all of the opportunities we miss because we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect.” It’s the dreams we don’t pursue because we’re too afraid of failure.

As Brown writes: “It’s terrifying to risk when you’re a perfectionist; your self-worth is on the line.” (How true is that!)

Brown believes that perfectionism exists on a continuum. “We all have some perfectionistic tendencies. For some, perfectionism may only emerge when they’re feeling particularly vulnerable. For others, perfectionism can be compulsive, chronic and debilitating, similar to addiction.”

Therese Borchard, one of my favorite bloggers (and people), captures perfectionism, well, perfectly in her post on Beyond Blue. She writes:

Perfectionism is like an untreated person with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) who gets stuck analyzing a lady bug on a blade of grass–unable to determine what shade of brown its dots are–instead of appreciating the view of a spectacular rose garden she’s in.

When we loosen our tight grip on perfection, we’re not only able to see more clearly. We’re able to pursue our passions.

In Aimee Liu’s fantastic book Restoring Our Bodies, Reclaiming Our Lives: Guidance and Reflections on Recovery From Eating Disorders, Erin, who struggled with anorexia for 15 years, recounts how her perfectionism and eating disorder stunted her passion and work as a photographer. And how her letting it go fueled that passion.

She writes:

My eating disorder pulled me away from myself and all the things that gave joy and meaning to my life. Unfortunately, photography was one of them. Chasing the impossible dream of “perfect,” I was unable to grow as an artist. I was always trying to create the perfect piece, take the perfect shot, and wait for the perfect light, use the best equipment. It just wasn’t happening. I continued to feel like a failure. Until I learned to let go with grace and dignity and accept imperfection. I simply couldn’t appreciate the authentic beauty within and around me.

Picking up my camera again, returning to my creative roots, I felt like I was seeing everything for the first time. I felt more connected with the world around me, more patient and open. I felt alive. Each click of the shutter has freed me from silence.

…I find the more I appreciate myself, the more I’m able to draw substance and soul into my images.

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brown cites the famous line from Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem”: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Whenever she starts “trying to control everything and make it perfect,” Brown reminds herself of Cohen’s words. She writes:

So many of us run around spackling all of the cracks, trying to make everything look just right. This line helps me remember the beauty of the cracks (and the messy house and the imperfect manuscript and the too-tight jeans). It reminds me that our imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together. Imperfectly, but together.

What also helps Brown, which I think can help us, too:

Sometimes it helps me to wake up in the morning and tell myself, “Today, I’m going to believe that showing up is enough.”

Borchard quotes David Burns, M.D., in his book Ten Days to Self-Esteem, which also provides a powerful perspective:

Our vulnerabilities and flaws–and not our successes and strengths–ultimately make us lovable and human. People can be admired or resented–but never loved–for their successes and and achievements…. Our ‘brokenness’ is essential to being human. Our failures and moments of despair can sometimes be our greatest opportunities for growth, for intimacy, for spiritual awareness, and for self-acceptance.

Borchard offers more insight in her post on 10 steps to conquer perfectionism. It’s an eye-opening and valuable piece.

What are your thoughts on perfectionism? How has it affected your life? How have you been able to overcome it?

P.S., Don’t forget about the book giveaway! I’m announcing the winner tomorrow!