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 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.