Perfectionism means we are never “good enough” unless we (and everything we do) are perfect. Although you may think that perfectionism is something to strive for, it actually hinders creativity and growth. Trying something new becomes an anxiety provoking venture since, for the perfectionist, there must be no risk of making mistakes along the way.
Everyone who has seen a child learning to walk will know that as soon as a child falls, it will naturally try to get back up again. It won’t even hesitate – it will stumble, stand up, toddle on and fall again, and again, and again. Obviously, a child needs to fall to learn to walk – without falling it can’t learn about balance, gravity and the way the body works. So in this way, both the stumbling and the toddling are part of learning how to walk.
It’s such a pity that we grow out of this skill to get up again when we make mistakes – without hesitation – or when things go differently from how we want them to go. We don’t usually think about this, but most inventions have been through hundreds and sometimes thousands of previous versions before becoming amazing. Can we try and see ourselves as going through the same process?
In her book, “The Gifts of Imperfection”, Brené Brown suggests that there is nothing wrong with healthy striving, but that perfectionism fuels the thought, “If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame”.
She suggests we should embrace our imperfections, be open about them and learn from them. We can joyfully, instead of anxiously, learn about what works and what doesn’t.
If we can bear to look at our mistakes, we can learn to accept ourselves as we are, not as we think we should be.
Bibi Schonau is a Counselling Psychologist. She provides counselling and EMDR therapy at The Therapy Practice London.