I recently listened to an interview with Brené Brown on Sounds True podcast, “Insights at the Edge,” during which she discusses perfectionism.  Dr. Brown defines perfectionism and reshapes it’s meaning for us all based on her research on vulnerability and shame.

In honor of Eating Disorder Awareness Week, which begins today, I thought I would share her insights and research findings on perfectionism, as they deeply resonate with me.

Dr. Brown defines perfectionism as “a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: “If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”

Perfectionism is defeating and self-destructive simply because there is no such thing as perfect.

Perfection is an unattainable goal.

Perfectionism is more about perception – we want to be perceived as perfect. Again, this is unattainable – there is no way to control perception, regardless of how much time and energy we spend trying.

Perfectionism is addictive because when we do experience shame, judgment, and blame, we often believe it is because we were not perfect enough so rather than questioning the faulty logic of perfectionism, we become even more entrenched in our quest to live, look, and do everything just right.

To overcome perfectionism we need to be able to acknowledge our vulnerabilities to the experiences of shame, judgment, and blame, and practice self-compassion.  When we can live compassionately and authentically, we begin to embrace our imperfections, rather than push them away and shame ourselves for having these vulnerabilities (we are only human after all).

Take a few minutes today to search for talks given by Dr. Brown, begin reading one of her books, articles, or blogs, or listen to the Sounds True interview.  Give yourself permission to be imperfect.  Begin to cultivate a felt sense of healthy striving that feels more authentic than perfectionism.  Remember: You do not need to be perfect, only ‘good enough.’


Kimberly Atwood is a psychotherapist in private practice with offices in Doylestown, Pennsylvania and Midtown Manhattan, NYC. She specializes in working with people in their 20’s and 30’s dealing with eating disorders, intimacy issues, and related anxiety.   For more, please visit Kim’s ‘Finding Your Voice’ Blog.