Perfectionism: The Surprising Self-Destructive, Unattainable, and Addictive Trait

Perfectionism: The Surprising Self-Destructive, Unattainable, and Addictive Trait

Brene Brown, a researcher, storyteller, and giver of the all-time best TED talk ever (in my opinion), is a personal hero and someone I consider my online BFF who has given the universe several notable books. I have read them all, listened to them all, and re-read most again.


I love her study and work on how shame works, how she introduced the concept of competing priorities, which most women must learn to navigate, and what genuine empathy looks like.


Her work has improved my life by understanding my internal dialogue, including her eye-opening research on perfectionism, which has to be one of the hardest lessons to shake.


I struggle with it daily, and I often find clients also stuck in its self-destructive, unattainable, and additive behavior. Perfectionism creates and the shame that takes place.


What Perfectionism Is:

In her book, Atlas of the Heart, Brene defines perfectionism as:

  1. A self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels the core thought that If I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of blame, judgment, and shame.
  2. It is an unattainable goal that is more about perception than internal motivation, and there is no way to control perception, no matter how much time and energy is spent trying.
  3. Perfectionism is addictive because when we experience shame, judgment, and blame, we often believe it’s because we weren’t perfect enough. Rather than questioning the faulty logic of perfectionism, we become even more entrenched in our quest to look and do everything just right.
  4. Perfectionism makes us feel shame, judgment, and blame, leading to more shame, judgment, and blame by saying things like It’s my fault. I’m feeling this way because I’m not good enough.

Using perfectionism as a way to motivate yourself, complete tasks, and by wasting time trying to manage the perception of others is unhealthy for striving for excellence.

What Perfectionism is Not:

  • About healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is a “hustle for worthiness” and puts us into the loop of performing, pleasing, perfecting, and proving.
  • The self-protection we think it is. Brene likens it to a 20-ton shield that is lugged around. At its core, perfectionism is really about trying to earn approval. Praise for achievement and performance becomes a dangerous and debilitating belief system that tells people, “I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please, perform, perfect, prove.”
  • The key to success research shows perfectionism hampers achievement and is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction, life paralysis, or missed opportunities. The fear of failing, making mistakes, not meeting people’s expectations, and being criticized keeps us outside, looking at where healthy competition and striving does unfold.
  • Acknowledging shame as an indicator and function of perfectionism and look for the faulty logic of perfectionism.

What to Do When Stuck in Perfectionism:


Here are a couple of action steps I've used to shake perfectionism in that moment.

 1. Pay attention and listen to your inner dialogue. If you are being harsh and critical, it may signal that you are being perfectionistic. You will need to flip the script and talk to yourself like a best friend. Beating yourself up is demotivating and you need to catch yourself.

2. Be sure to note your intentional steps that you made. Remember nothing is to small to celebrate the progress made. It is vital to reflect on what was accomplished, even if it feels minimal. 

I'm curious to know which of these steps are you willing to try? Have you find a way to 'shortcut' your addiction to perfection? Please let me know.


DeShawn Wert works with intelligent, motivated, professionals on how to get stuff done so they CAN relax and enjoy the fruits of their labor! Let's explore how you do your best work together. An Ericson-trained life coach and JTS Coaching-trained ADHD coach, DeShawn is a member of good standing in the ADHD Coaches Organization. She's been a contributor to several books on living with ADHD, including Dr. Dale Archer's book, The ADHD Advantage, and Laurie Dupar's series called, More Ways to Succeed with ADHD.


Contact DeShawn Now-Set Up a Time to Talk


You know what I find fascinating? It's our differences


~ especially those of us who can be a little off-center trying to function and find fulfillment in the mainstream world. This world values efficiency and productivity, which can require productivity techniques and hacks that some of us find 

too mundane and soul-crushing, if not impossible to follow.


For me, I've found I can't follow mainstream productivity tools and hacks. I've had to learn to drive my brain, use its quirks and creativity to feel seen, make contributions to the world, and enjoy both work and home.


I like working with smart people who are ready to dump conventional productivity techniques to learn their true personal productivity by understanding how to drive their brains and discover their unique strengths to redesign their days with systems that complement them.


Let's start exploring together!