Lesson 1.3 - Why so many women struggle with perfectionism
Hey, welcome back! Why do so many women struggle with perfectionism? I think the previous lesson gave some insight, but I want to take a little time in this lesson to answer this question even further.
Societal construct and messaging
In the previous lesson we talked about how our society only views women in one of two ways: the smart girl or the pretty girl. We, as a society, don’t tell women they’re good enough as they are, but that only how well they perform and how good they look matters.
Women grow up with the message that they’re not good enough, that who they are and what they have to say doesn’t matter. Men have to deal with a lot of pressure too, but at least they have the experience that when they speak people listen and take them seriously.
Women have a different experience. We need to be good and don’t rock the boat. We need to be small and silent. We need to follow the rules and please others. Women, for the most part, are considered equal, until there’s a hint of us out-debating, out-performing, and out-shining men. Society can’t handle that. Most men can’t handle that.
So, we dull the shine. We start questioning our worth. We stay quiet and start shoving down who we really are. We disassociate from ourselves, our bodies, and our intuition. And we start using our perfectionism as a way of coping with all of this.
Obviously, this is a generalization and it’s impossible to summarize 50 years of gender theory and gender studies in two minutes. And you could have a different story depending on your experiences and how you were raised.
But still, you’re inundated with the message that women need to get in line and what we have to say doesn’t matter every day. Because it’s our culture. This small-minded view of women is institutionalized in every aspect of our society and culture, in our schools and our workplaces.
Call it institutionalized misogyny, which sounds harsh, but it IS something we have to deal with.
Perfectionism meets our needs
Blaming misogyny and unfair treatment of women for our perfectionism would be too easy though. Because perfectionism gives us something and it meets a need for us somewhere, otherwise we wouldn't be behaving this way.
So, what could that possibly be?
It keeps us from being shamed
Women have been chronically overfunctioning for years, ever since we emerged on the work scene and took on the overwhelming challenge of trying to juggle full-time work with full-time family responsibilities.
We have to have it all and do it effortlessly, because if we don’t we get shamed for being a bad mom, a bad wife, a bad employee.
Over the years we’ve internalized all of these impossible standards and we’re terrified of not measuring up. Overfunctioning and perfectionism have become our trusted countermeasures.
Because if we don’t do everything, something terrible will occur: we’ll miss out on a critical development, someone else will do it wrong, the children’s welfare will be jeopardized, we’ll be ridiculed or judged harshly, or we’ll be seen as ‘less than’.
And, if we can’t be the best at all that we do, we’ll be an abject failure. Which leads to more shame. It’s a vicious cycle.
It keeps us from feeling vulnerable
Most women are serious go-getters. We are extremely good at doing things for everyone else, but we put ourselves last. We do one project and are on to the next. We have enormously high expectations of ourselves which we can rarely reach and if we do reach them, it’s at a huge cost.
Why do we act this way?
We act this way because the other way of being - standing up for ourselves, being imperfect, saying no, letting go of outcomes - all require being vulnerable.
And being vulnerable has an unstable outcome, and possibly a painful one like failure, so we just don’t. We do what we know to stay safe.
Perfection means we aren't vulnerable. If we make no mistakes, there's no outward appearance of our inner weaknesses. For some reason we're totally okay with comforting and cheering on others in their mistakes, but we can't accept the same humanity within ourselves.
It gives us a sense of power and control
Perfectionism gives us a sense of power. We think it is the thing that will make us confident. But it actually lends itself to more insecurity than ever before because we become consumed by people's responses instead of living open, wholehearted, brave lives.
We also think it gives us a measure of control. But that’s a fallacy, because what we’re really trying to control is how people perceive us or the work we do. But we can't make other people like us. We can't control perception.
It gives us a sense of validation
Somehow, we have this idea that if we achieve ‘perfection’ in some area or all areas, life will be better. We'll be happier, we'll feel like we've done enough, achieved enough, worked hard enough, and that all of the crap we've dealt with will have been worth it. It's the ultimate validation of every choice we've ever made.
It gives us love and safety
To us, perfection means that we'll receive the love we were missing somewhere along the way, from emotionally unavailable parents, unrequited crushes, crappy relationships, mean girls and more.
Perfection also means that we'll be safe. That if we play by enough rules and do everything ‘just so’, we'll be safe from people who’ve hurt us or the people who have the potential to hurt us. And we think we'll be safe from heartbreak. That if we're good enough, we won't be alone or rejected.
Okay, over to the worksheet. Which need of yours is met by your perfectionism? It might be one of the needs I mentioned or it might be something else entirely. If so, please share it with us in the Facebook group, because I’m sure your insights will help others too.
In wrapping up this lesson, I want to be clear. I think that these reasons are illusions, entirely. Not the needs themselves, because our need for love and safety and validation is real and natural. But the thought that perfectionism can attribute to those needs. It won’t. It never will. In fact, perfectionism is a barrier between us and our needs, because perfectionism is a prison of Never Good Enough.