Gaining Self Confidence Even With Imperfections
The first time I saw this chicken meme I laughed and thought to myself, “I’m glad I’m not the only one who does that.” I posted it on our FamilyNinjas Facebook page. People liked it and it reinforced to me that I wasn’t the only one with illogical fears of the dark, despite my childhood years being long gone.
Most of us want to be perfect. I know I certainly do. Be a perfect mom who does everything all the child experts and research recommends. Be a loving, supportive, perfect wife. Be an all-knowledgable therapist. Have a clean house with awesome decorations. Be an example of an upstanding citizen and neighbor. Fit in the right jean size. Make gourmet, healthy meals. The list goes on and on…Literally… I sometimes have a check-list in my head of things I need to do to be good and likable, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who does.
Recognize the Destructive Power of Trying to Attain the Unattainable and Remember You Are Enough
In recent years, I’ve become more and more aware of the negative impacts of my perfect ideals. There’s no way I can measure up, and that leaves me anxious and sometimes irritable. Other people feel depressed, alone, and not good enough. It can also be a factor in eating disorders and several other disorders. I’ve recognized that struggling to be perfect is a struggle for me, and I’m trying to remember to find the positives rather than aim for the unattainable.
I try to remember what my neighbor said when I apologized for a messy house: “It’s not a problem. It looks like someone actually lives here.” So true. Nobody has the picture-perfect life they post on Facebook and Instagram at all times.
I try to remember a comment my dad made after the birth of my first child: “We didn’t have the internet and we all survived SIDS and diseases and turned out all right.” He’s right in my family’s case. We get endless advice from both people we know and strangers on the internet, and it can be easy to be pulled in and believe we have to follow every single tip to a tee in order to be a good parent. I love the phrase “good enough parenting.” I don’t think I’m using it in the sense it was used by the original theorist, but to me it means that no parent is perfect. We all make mistakes. But, when we are trying, our efforts are most likely “good enough” and our kids will most likely feel loved and learn from us. And, I remember that we can apologize and learn from our mistakes as a parent.
I try to remember to focus on the positives in my marriage instead of the flaws. No marriage is Cinderella level happily-ever-after every hour of every day. I remember that Dr. John Gottman found that it isn’t whether couples fight that indicates an unhappy marriage or whether or not they will stay together later. Rather, it is how they fight and if they are learning to work together rather than name-calling or shunning that indicates this.
The Difference Between Self-Improvement and Perfection
So does all of this mean that we shouldn’t try any more? That trying to overcome bad habits and flaws isn’t important because trying to be perfect can have unhealthy consequences? Should we just accept that we humans have mistakes and live with it? Of course not!
Dr. Brené Brown describes the difference between perfectionism and trying to become our best selves in her book The Gifts of Imperfection. You see, when we try to improve then we are doing it for ourselves. We hope it will make us happier, more hopeful and more of the person we want to become.
She learned from her research interviewing thousands of people that perfectionism, on the other hand, is all about image. We try to be perfect so no one can criticize us, to be acclaimed, or to please others. We hide our mistakes or unwanted traits out of fear. We hide our true selves and act unauthentic in order to gain approval. It can also be really subtle. We worry that we aren’t good enough and “worthy” as Dr. Brown says if we aren’t perfect. Dr. Brown ties perfectionism to feeling ashamed.
The Difference Between Shame and Guilt
Dr. Brown makes an important distinction between shame and guilt. Shame is based in fear. We believe that people won’t love or accept us if they know our flaws, our mistakes, or our quirks. And actually, we can feel ashamed of accomplishments, too, and worry that people won’t like us if we talk about them. Shame likes silence, and we often keep quiet out of fear. We don’t feel good enough when we’re ashamed.
Guilt, on the other hand, has a positive effect. We feel badly about what we did, but don’t beat up ourselves and think we are a bad person. Rather, the action is what was wrong. When we feel guilt, we try to apologize, change, or make the situation better. So, guilt leads to change and improvement while shame leads to more destructive behaviors and patterns.
Reach Out With Courage, Compassion, and Connection
So, you recognize that you too struggle with perfectionism. Now what? Dr. Brown goes on to say that the way we can reduce feelings of shame and feelings of inadequacy is to reach out with courage, compassion, and connection. First, recognize when you’re feeling ashamed. Remember that you are enough and act deliberately and intentionally in response to the situation that you feel ashamed about.
Have the courage to speak out to the people closest to you who will accept you. Have the courage to be vulnerable and let yourself be seen. You’ll often find that you’re not alone- like in my chicken running away from the dark meme. Have the courage to be yourself instead of trying to change to fit a perfect image- whether that it someone else’s image or your own. Be brave and let other people (who are kind and close to you) know how you’re really doing and really feeling.
Be compassionate, especially with yourself. Stop calling yourself names in your thoughts and instead treat yourself like your treasured friends and family do.
Lastly, stay connected. Relate to your friends and family on a personal level; social media doesn’t count. When we are being authentic and true to who we are, then we feel a sense of belonging to others rather than an anxious need to fit in.
Dr. Brown offers several other messages and guideposts to living a more authentic, whole, and happier life in her book. I highly recommend it! Her research is really remarkable. She presents it in a way that is easy to understand and relatable. One friend I know said that she reads her book every year! If you would like to read it, you can find it on Amazon here: The Gift of Imperfection (FamilyNinjas Amazon affiliate link). You can also look up her TEDtalks- she has a couple of them posted online.
All in all, the take home message I got from Dr. Brown’s work is that we are all enough. We are all lovable, and we don’t need to prove it by trying to be perfect. Be ourselves and help each other in this journey of life. By all means, strive every day to improve and reach goals, but avoid shaming yourself and reaching for unattainable and unhealthy perfectionism.
If you’re interested in other posts about self-confidence and self-esteem, check out our article on two 1-minute exercises to help boost self-esteem. You may also be interested in an article about self-compassion, how it differs from self-esteem, and how to reinforce it in your life.