The Link Between Shame & Perfectionism
“Shame is the birthplace of perfectionism.”
– Brené Brown
Ooof, this hit me hard.
As a recovering perfectionist and overachiever, I know a lot about shame — i.e., feeling like I’m not enough.
The truth is, I spent a lot of my life feeling like I wasn’t good enough — smart enough, pretty enough, witty enough, funny enough, social enough, feminine enough, extroverted enough, productive enough, desirable enough, doing enough…not a good enough partner, friend, sister, daughter, granddaughter, aunt…the list goes on.
I used to feel like I was coming up short…trying to do it all and not doing anything well.
Can you relate?
I don’t know about you, but this old shame pattern can still plow me over from time to time.
Sure, there are times when it’s valid…I could be doing more. But how much shaming myself will really help to encourage right action?
This is what I’ve been curious about. What is the right amount/type of self-criticism? Can self-criticism even be helpful when it’s underlying emotion is shame? Or must it stand on a solid foundation of self-love and acceptance?
As Brené Brown teaches, here’s why shame — unlike others self-conscious emotions like guilt, embarrassment and humiliation, all of which can motivate us — is NOT useful: Shame is NOT an emotion most people like to sit with, let alone DIG into.
And as you know if you read my blog, I’m an advocate of allowing uncomfortable (“negative”) emotions, without judgment — not wallowing in them, but being with them, naming them, giving them a voice, being the container in which they can move (e-motion = energy in motion).
The thing about shame is that it’s so damn uncomfortable, painful even, that most of us will do anything to escape it the moment it bubbles up.
Here’s what shame can sound like: “I’m a bad person”, “I can’t do anything well”, “I’m weak”, “I’m lazy”, “I’m a lier”, “I’m stupid”, “I should be OK, no one can find out I’m not OK”…
Shame makes us feel stuck. And because we’re animals who tend toward self-preservation, we are very unlikely to share our shame with others. If we have shame about money, the tendency may be to hide it from those closest to us, when doing so is only perpetuating the problem, and the shame around it.
One thing I do know for sure is that the only way to do the work, to untie the knots of self-destructive mental and emotional patterning, like shame, is to face them head on.
As the old adage goes:
What we don’t own owns us.
Many reading this are of a generation that was taught to hold their shame close, to put it in a box and tie it up with a pretty little bow.
If so, you may be thinking, I don’t have shame. I’m good. I had a great childhood. The problem when we maintain a facade of positivity is that we don’t hold space for healing and growth to occur. We can’t feel through our emotions if we stay comfortable all the time — hence the terminology “toxic positivity”.
If we don’t claim our shame, it will undoubtedly show up in our lives as:
- overextending ourselves (taking on more than we can energetically sustain),
- putting work before all else,
- putting others needs before our own; lying about our needs, feelings and desires to appease others (caretaking),
- judging ourselves and others for being weak, lazy, sensitive, messy, imperfect…
- sabotaging good relationships with people who are “not enough for us” because deep down we don’t feel like enough for ourselves,
- anger problems (especially for men, shame can show up as anger because for men anger is socially acceptable, weakness is not.)
- low self-worth which can manifest as people-pleasing and boundary issues,
- staying stuck in hopeless identities and stories that stifle our growth (“I’m a bad person”, “I could never do that”, “I’m never going to change”, victim mentality, scarcity mentality…),
- and worst of all not feeling secure to share our authentic selves.
And most of this is subconscious, until it isn’t…until we DO OUR WORK.
And you know what almost always comes up when we do our work? SHAME! Anytime I have revealed a blind spot, or brought my shadow into the light, woah, boatloads of shame. It is in these moments where having a solid foundation of self-love, self-acceptance and emotional literacy is crucial, otherwise I would freeze at the edge every time.
So, in what ways have you thought: “I’m not enough”?
Shame, like all emotions, needs to breathe. It needs to be brought into the light and accepted, which means we must look at it, feel it, write about it, talk about it…
About the Author: Allie Andrews
Allie is the founder/owner of OmBody Health which helps busy people tap into their full potential to live a healthy and meaningful life by learning to mindfully flow between the energies of doing and being. A recovering overachiever and perfectionist herself, Allie is passionate about helping achievers, caregivers and workaholics move self-care from the bottom of their to do list to an integral part of the way that they show up for and relate to themselves everyday. Allie has her master’s degree in education and is a certified health coach and yoga teacher.
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