Perfectionism and the Shame Bias
Continuous learning is an essential quality in the life of a Creator. We try and practice that in our own work and lives.
A while back, David enrolled in an online class with Brené Brown, well-known author and researcher who has spent decades studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame — all of which help you understand whether you are relating to living life through the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) or TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic)®.
David learned a lot about recognizing and managing the shame that can get in the way of empowered living. Brown provides insight into several forms of what she calls “vulnerability armor.” One of the primary shields is that of perfectionism, a belief that if we do things perfectly and look perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame.
Perfectionism is often rooted in the Victim Orientation and results in both inner and outer experiences of the DDT. Internally, if you do not live up to your idealized image, you can become your own worst Persecutor, shaming yourself that you fell short of expectations.
There’s another thing about shame that is puzzling. It is called the “shame bias.” Here is how it works:
Think about a time someone did something they were ashamed of and they had the courage to share that story with you. You remember consoling them, reaching out and encouraging them to not be so hard on themselves. If stuck in the shame bias, you fear others will not extend to you the same comfort. You willingly console others, but have a bias for harshly judging yourself.
The shame bias describes a paradox of both being hard on ourselves, more forgiving toward others, and then assuming they won’t support us when we share our imperfections. Ouch!
As a married couple, as well as business partners, we each notice our desire to be the “perfect partner” in both aspects of our relationship. Striving to be a perfect partner, we can become mired in endless rewriting, reworking, and rethinking as we attempt to make everything flawless.
The reality is that perfectionism, coupled with the shame bias, is the “enemy” of learning, creativity, and innovation. Learning often requires experimentation, multiple attempts and, yes, falling short and not being perfect. As we engage in the creating process, we learn and adjust when the Baby Step actions we take fail to produce the result we had hoped for.
As Creators, we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable to imperfection, for that is how we learn, grow, and develop. Continuous learning accepts the reality of not knowing how we are going to achieve our envisioned outcomes or whether the next Baby Step is going to work — which makes the perfectionist cringe. Such imperfections can be great Challengers — for Challengers call forth learning and growth!
One way that we have shifted our relationship to perfectionism is to adopt the practice of what we call GEFN: Good Enough For Now, which we wrote about last week. Especially in our work life, when we observe ourselves or one another in perfection mode, we call a time-out and ask: “Is this GEFN?”
GEFN allows us to take a Baby Step, learn from it, and adjust when we need to. It allows us to put down the “shame bias” of perfectionism and free up energy.
Creators embrace vulnerability. Lay down the shield of perfectionism and cultivate the courage to move through the fear of uncertainty as you create awesome outcomes!