Perfectionism and Shame

Are you ready to learn the connection between perfectionism and shame? We will explore how shame motivates constant striving and achieving. The purpose of this article it to shed light on the pattern of perfectionism so that a perfectionist can see the root, the pattern and the way out. This article will address the following questions:

1. What is perfectionism?

2. What is the difference between perfectionism versus healthy striving?

3. What is shame?

4. What is the root cause of perfectionism?

5. What does the Bible say about perfectionism?

6. What do perfectionists fear?

7. What is the cost of perfectionism and shame?

8. How do you heal from perfectionism?

title Perfectionism and shame

What does is feel like to be a perfectionist?

A perfectionist strives for flawlessness. This is often accomplished through fixating on imperfections, trying to control situations, working harder and/or being critical of self or others. -VeryWellMind.com

What is perfectionism?

Perfectionism is defined as: refusal to accept any standard short of perfection. As mentioned earlier, successes and accomplishments are praised from a very young age. As a result, we begin to attach our value and worth to our accomplishments, rather than our identity in Christ. You do not have to earn your value. Self worth is not tied to what we accomplish. However, perfectionism moves us to tie our value to what we produce, rather than tie value to who we are in Christ.

What is the difference between perfectionism and healthy striving?

The book, Atlas of the Heart, describes the healthy striving as internally driven and self focused. Centered on asking the question, “How can I improve?”. Whereas perfectionism is externally driven with an emphasis on the question, “What will people think of me?” While the action looks the same, the motives are quite different.

What is shame?

Shame is part of the human experience…every single person experiences shame in some way, shape or form. All the way back in the Garden of Eden we see Adam and Eve created, are naked and felt no shame (Genesis 2:25). The moment they ate of the forbidden tree/fruit, we see them hiding from God and hiding their naked bodies. Sin was introduced to the world. They were reacting to the shame they were experiencing as a result of their sin. We feel shame as a result of our own sin and due to the sin of others. Shame can result from something we did and/or something done to us. Several online definitions did such a great job of defining shame that I am sharing them here with you to increase your understanding of the experience of shame.

Shame is a painful feeling we all experience at one time or another. It often involves a deep-rooted fear that someone is going to find out about a mistake we made or a character flaw we have. When we feel shame, we want to hide from everyone. And it can lead to isolation and suffering. VeryWellMind.org

Shame is a powerful emotion that can cause people to feel defective, unacceptable, even damaged beyond repair. VeryWellMind.org

Given that shame can lead us to feel as though our whole self is flawed, bad, or subject to exclusion, it motivates us to hide or to do something to save face. PsychologyToday.com

Check out: How to Overcome Shame Based Thinking

What is the root cause of perfectionism?

This is where we see perfectionism and shame tightly connected. Earlier we talked about how a perfectionist’s value and self-worth depend on their accomplishments, approval and acceptance of others. In other words, without accomplishments, approval and acceptance from others, value and self-worth will plummet. When value and self-worth plummets, shame becomes the experience. Consequently, in order to avoid shame, a perfectionist works very hard to achieve and accomplish. This means avoidance of shame motivates perfectionism. As a result, this becomes a constant cycle….work hard, receive approval and acceptance from others- rinse and repeat to avoid feeling shame or manage feelings of shame.

What does the Bible say about perfectionism?

A couple of things are important to outline. First, perfectionism is an unattainable goal according to Scripture (Romans 3:23). Second, when looking at the motivation of perfectionism- working to please others and gain their approval, is not God‘s purpose for our lives. Faith in Christ means we are already approved and accepted by God (1 Thessalonians 2:4). Additionally, our value and self-worth is never connected to what we accomplish or through works. Our value is in Christ alone!

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What do perfectionists fear?

Perfectionist fear shame, rejection and disconnection from others. In summary, fear of what others think becomes the focus. Keep in mind, we cannot control what others think, but we sure can try. It’s an exhausting shift to work and not God‘s plan for our lives. Living in fear is never God‘s plan for His children.

What is the cost of perfectionism and shame?

Perfectionism and shame will lead to anxiety and depression – anxiety regarding fear of what others think, with no relief from the constant striving. Avoidance of calculated risks and missed opportunities mark the life of a perfectionist because their value is always on the line if they don’t meet their unattainable standard. Finally, negative emotions are overwhelming when falling short of unrealistic expectations set for themselves or perceived by others.

How do you heal from perfectionism?

Since we now know perfectionism and shame are attached, healing from perfectionism means we must let go of shame. Using the formula from the “Taking Thoughts Captive” course, we start with knowing the triggers. What situations or relationships tend to activate the striving? Next, expose the lie (false core beliefs.) In other words, we have to stop believing self-worth and value is tied to successes and accomplishments (works). Third, pay attention to the self talk or thoughts. The self talk likely perpetuates shame and other negative emotions. Which brings us to the next step, identify emotions. Experience your emotions without rushing to avoid them through working harder. Finally, notice what you are doing in response to the emotions. There is a tendency to manage the negative emotions with avoiding or striving harder.

10 tips for Overcoming Perfectionism and Shame

In my earlier article, 10 tips for Overcoming Perfectionism and Shame, I outline ways to challenge the sequence of events. This information it’s also available in the full online course “Taking Thoughts Captive”. Get the 10 tips to overcome perfectionism and fear for more ways to heal from perfectionism.

Wrapping Up Perfectionism and Shame

Shame is the root cause a perfectionism. All of which starts with believing a lie. Perfectionists wrongly believe we must earn approval, acceptance and self-worth. This moves a perfectionist to work harder, avoid opportunities and in some cases self-destruct. Believing these lies creates a lot of unnecessary pain in one’s life. In fact, whenever we depart from Scripture, we create unnecessary pain in our lives.

Cling to the Truth of God‘s Word. His Word says you are valuable, approved and accepted. This standing only comes through Christ – never by works. This is the good news of the gospel.

3 Comments

  1. Beth on July 15, 2022 at 10:57 am

    My mind is BLOWN. I am speechless, I tell you! This is exactly what God is working on me with…and…this is just RICH. Thank you SO much. Beautiful insights.

    • Sunshyne Gray on July 15, 2022 at 4:38 pm

      Thank you for sharing God’s faithfulness! It blesses me to know God is using this article:)

      • LaRenda Jones on July 16, 2022 at 9:42 am

        Excellent! Tell the truth. Thank you Sunshyne.

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