Unlocking this One Root of Perfectionism Could Set You Free

by | Feb 27, 2022 | Anxiety, Intrusive Thoughts, Trust Yourself | 9 comments

How would you life be different if you weren’t caught in the stronghold of your perfectionist and fear of failure?

What would unfold if you weren’t addicted to other people’s opinions and approval, and buffeted around by their stories like a leaf in the wind?

What would blossom internally and externally like flowers waiting to bloom if you could learn to let go and trust yourself, trust others, and trust life?

Most people who find their way to my work are on the anxious-sensitive-creative spectrum. This means that at the core of this personality type is exquisite sensitivity that can either morph into anxiety or be channeled into creativity and spirituality. When high sensitivity is judged or not thoroughly supported, as it often is in the growing up years, it morphs into worry,  intrusive thoughts, and compulsions, brilliant defense mechanisms that help the sensitive heart manage the deep pain of life. When high sensitivity is honored, it channels into creative expression and spiritual connection, both of which are the birthright of every person on the planet.

I could include many other words to describe this personality type: risk-averse, conscientious, profoundly empathic, perfectionistic. These first three can serve us well when we learn how to wield the core of high sensitivity and regard it as a gift instead of a burden. But the last of these qualities – perfectionism – typically does not serve us.

The ego, however, will tell you a different story. The ego will tell you that your perfectionism has served you well, that it’s the belief that tells you that you’re not good enough that has pushed you to achieve and that many successes in your life are a result of the taskmaster that sits on your shoulder with a relentless whip telling you that you’re not good enough. This is the biggest myth that keeps perfectionists stuck.

I’ve had countless conversations with clients that sound something like this:

“Yes, I know I’m a perfectionist, but it has served me very well in my life. It has pushed me to do well in school, get into a great college, and succeed in my career. If I wasn’t a perfectionist I might not be as successful as I am today,” a client will share.

“Tell me how you define success,” I’ll respond, which launches a conversation about the true definition of success – a sense of abiding well-being independent of externals – versus the cultural definition, which hinges entirely on externals (appearance, salary, the number of letters that follow your name, your partner’s appearance, what kind of car you drive, etc).

It’s essential here to discern between perfectionism and high-achievement. Brené Brown describes the difference clearly in Daring Greatly:

“Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval.

“Most perfectionists grew up being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule following, people-pleasing, appearance, sports). Somewhere along the way, they adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system: ‘I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect.’

“Healthy striving is self-focused: How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused: What will they think? Perfectionism is a hustle.


“Perfectionism is not the key to success.


“In fact, research shows that perfectionism hampers achievement… The fear of failing, making mistakes, not meeting people’s expectations, and being criticized keeps us outside the arena where healthy competition and striving unfolds.”

Here Brené is linking perfectionism with another common characteristic of the highly sensitive person: being attached to approval and caring about what other people think.

So the problem here is that your self-worth becomes attached to external approval, and it’s the character of the perfectionist that spurs this on by sitting on your shoulder saying, “If I’m perfect, I’ll be loved. If I’m perfect, I’ll finally capture the approval of my (parents, friends, culture, boss). And it’s the voice that tells me that I’m not good enough that pushes me to achieve. So I don’t see how my perfectionism is harming me.”

It’s circular thinking: If I believe I’m not worthy I’ll work harder to gain the approval of people who don’t see and value my essence to begin with. And it never, ever works. As I teach at length in my Trust Yourself course, when you’re attached to approval and spurred on by your perfectionist, you walk around with a bottomless bucket in front of you asking others to fill it. Even if they give you momentary approval, it falls right through the bucket that can never be filled because it has no bottom.

What is the alternative? To rewire your thinking and your core belief so that you begin to know that you’re intrinsically worthy, safe and lovable just as you are. How do you do this? By learning to fill your well of self, which lives at the center of your being and is independent of external praise and approval. And how do you fill your inner well?

There are many ways, but the one I teach is simple and accessible to everyone and requires only one intention: The willingness to turn inward. By creating regular inner practices that teach you to know yourself and love yourself, you learn to access self-trust. And when you trust yourself, when you orient toward your intrinsic worthiness and track inward instead of outward, the waters that are your birthright rush back into your well.

This simple formula is at the heart of the Trust Yourself course:

Self-knowledge + Self-love = Self-trust


It’s a formula that has changed thousands of lives, as it helps you heal perfectionism, caring what others think, being addicted to approval, the fear of failure, and absorbing other people’s lives at the root. When we heal at the root, everything changes. We can talk about perfectionism until the cows come home, we can read about self-doubt until we’re blue in the face, but until we learn the actions that address the root cause, very little will shift. Until you learn to fill the well of self, you’re endlessly walking about with that bottomless bucket in front of you, chasing praise and buffeted by the ever-changing winds of life.

Without warm waters in your well of self that remind you of your intrinsic worth, you’re a victim to your perfectionist.

Without access to the center of your being, you fall prey to absorbing other people’s stories and flitting about like a leaf in the wind. 

Without learning how to receive the nourishment from your own inner well, you feel empty and life can feel meaningless.

Without the clear waters rimming your soul, you believe every intrusive thought that crosses your mind.

Are you ready to learn how to drink from your own well, how to become the source of your own nourishment, how to access your still point so that you can weather the storms of life? If so, I invite you to join me for the 17th round of Trust Yourself: A 30-Day Course to Help You Overcome Your Fear of Failure, Caring What Others Think, Perfectionism, Difficulty Making Decisions, and Self-Doubt, which starts on Saturday March 5, 2022 I look forward to meeting you there.



  1. I recently re-started the course material as I knew it was time for me. I’m just wondering that when you start to absorb the material, is it normal to feel almost “raw” and like you’re “grieving an old part of you”? I’m wondering if it’s grieving the “familiar” like a butterfly would grieve it’s cocoon. I’ve been comfortable in my dark little cocoon, but I have no idea about the blue skies, the flowers, etc. that wait for me once I’m out of it. Really looking forward to continuing on this journey. Although it’s incredibly scary for me, I’m still going to push through and as my therapist would say “run towards the barf”.

  2. I never realized how much weight I put on others opinions/opinions of me. I most definitely put more weight on them than my own! Somewhere along the line I stopped trusting myself. I started to assume I was most likely wrong about anything that someone disagreed with me on. If someone’s view was different than mine, mine was flawed (less, or not correct). This has caused me to feel like a leaf in the wind, never anchored to myself. I have learned to be conscious of this tendency little by little and reminding myself, “you can disagree, you aren’t wrong, you don’t have to take everything everyone says to heart”. I am learning to listen to myself and believe myself and my feelings.

  3. The last few days I have been thinking about just how much perfectionism has affected me throughout my life and just how subtle it has been for me.
    When you hear perfectionism it’s often seen in career progression, financial success efc.
    But for me it’s about how I am as a person, down to how I look, sound, what I say, even my voice. And I do it automatically. I’m looking forward to learning who/how I actually am underneath. Although I can’t help but hope a lot of who/how I am under the perfectionism is not much different. But I guess we will see ?

  4. Hi Sheryl. This text resonated with me so much, like I read my life story. When I turned 17 I was so scared of what others think about my boyfriend that I falled into the rabbit hole of anxiety immideately. Now I’m 18. A lot of work was done but it’s still not enough, so I claimed myself hopeless. This brilliant article gives me a realisation that probably it’s not truth. If there were thousands of people with similar symptoms and they finally GOT better, most likely it’s possible for me, too.

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom!

  5. Hi Sheryl,
    When will your next Trust Yourself Live course be offered?
    And when is your next opening for a counseling consult? Will you be taking new patients anytime in the foreseeable future?
    Thank you for your Love that shines through all of your writings.

    • Hi Nancy: I just finished up a round so the next round will start on October 24th, 2020.

  6. Note: Following are the call times for the two live coaching calls for the March 2022 round of this course. Please note that only about 1/3 of participants are able to join the live calls, and the recordings will be available immediately afterward:

    Call 1: Tuesday March 8th at 4pm ET
    Call 2: Thursday March 31st at 1:30pm ET

  7. This article’s just helped me have a very clear realisation – I hope you’ll indulge me!!
    I’m incredibly lucky that my work is my passion – I’m an actor-musician and get to fill my inner well every time I step into work. But the dry spell during Covid forced our whole industry to a stop, and gave me time and space to truly analyze what I truly love about my work and what I need to kick to the curb.
    Unfortunately, our industry, albeit a creative one, is predicated on a sense of having to compete for work and someone else deeming you “appropriate”, “worthy” even, of the chance to be creative. You have to be “perfect” for the part. Which, of course, for a highly-sensitive such as myself (and, let’s face it, most creatives must be on the highly sensitive spectrum!) is a really bitter pill to swallow. How can my well of self ever be full if I’m not doing that which I love? MUST I wait for some director or producer to give me permission to be creative, when it’s the very nectar that drives me?!
    I’ve grieved this truth. I’ve howled and I’ve wailed at how unfair this all is for many years. But, all the inner work I’ve been slowly getting through since I entered the fear forest 4 years ago (and there’s still plenty to be done) is now opening doors of inner wisdom that I hadn’t acknowledged before, and I’m now slowly realising…
    I’m ALWAYS worthy of the chance to be creative.
    Whether I’m in work or not, I can always find ways of being creative, and better yet, on MY TERMS.
    So, I’ve started composing at home. I’m considering setting up my own community-interest company to stage my own work, where the profits go to community causes.
    And when I’m not working? I’m trying to reframe what ‘creativity’ can be, from the small and mundane to the big. Painting the walls of mine and my partner’s new home – that’s creative. I’ve revisited an old hobby of colouring in and doodling – that’s creative. I’m playing my musical instruments for the hell of it, not just as practice for auditions (although, that can work both ways!)
    I love being on stage, and won’t be turning my back on a job that gives me such joy. But, I am slowly learning and accepting that I have the power to be creative in my own way, and that’s really empowering. And the simple truth is : my work requires me to be creative; being creative doesn’t require me to be at work.

    • Ooooh Lynwen I have chills reading this! Such gold you’ve gleaned from these challenging two years. What you’re sharing is at the heart of reclaiming self-trust and recognizing that there’s nothing “out there” that is responsible for our fullness and aliveness. Beautiful and thank you for sharing!


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