Perfectionism and Failure

Courtesy of Andrii Yalanskyi/ Shutterstock

Courtesy of Andrii Yalanskyi/ Shutterstock

Let’s face it, we as a community need help. For most, that’s a very difficult reality to embrace and many of us refuse to accept any standard short of perfection. If we are not mindful we can develop what psychologist Carol Dweck has termed the fixed mindset rather than the resilient growth mindset. Fixed thinking is often what keeps a person from trying different or challenging activities for fear of change and failure. So what is it that pushes us beyond competence toward perfectionism? Dr. Sandra Wilson believes that shame is the motivator. Wilson states, “Shame is rooted in the lie that human beings can and should be perfect.” Wilson believes that shame is not only binding, but in regards to fixed thinking it is also blinding. When we run or hide from pain we often perpetuate the problem which leads to unhealthy patterns. Shame is also the motivation for performance driven relationships and increased insecurity. These behaviors have become common in families and among youth and their peers.

Mark Gregston, founder of Heartlight Ministries sheds light on how to approach perfectionism and performance based relationships with children, “Encourage your kids to be themselves. Show interest in them for who they are, not what they do. And don’t wait until your kids are adults to unveil your flaws, mistakes and inadequacies.  It will draw them to you and it will cause teens to relax.” The point Gregston is making is to be vulnerable with your child modeling appropriate self-disclosure and to help your child accept that they are accepted.

Home: A Safe Place to Fail

One evening I had decided to spend time with my family and offered to blend smoothies to enjoy together in the backyard. While holding the door for my daughter and young son I became impatient and out of frustration let it go. When the door closed it hit my daughter’s arm knocking the glass down and shattered glass was found all over the ground. In the matter of seconds my daughter was hysterically crying with blended spinach and chocolate covering her arms and legs. I was immediately seen as the enemy and I felt the weight of the shame. In time, I realized my impatience and recognized that the surest way out of shame was to come towards the truth. After I cleaned up the glass I made my daughter another smoothie. I apologized for my impatience in not holding the door longer, something I likely would have done for a complete stranger. I communicated the importance of being able to make a mistake and learn from it and that we want our home to be a safe place to fail. The gift I received from my failure was empathy. As I reflected I thought about what it felt like to make a mistake and to feel shamed for it. I had surpassed the conviction of my actions and was for a short time ruled by guilt and shame. I didn’t feel supported and I certainly didn’t feel loved through the failure. Finally, as a parent I thought, “Do I do this and have I taught this in my home? Is my home a safe place to fail?” Is yours? Before we launch our children into middle school, high school, college and beyond it would be wise for us to give our children every opportunity to learn to fail in our care. The next time you feel the the pull toward perfectionism and away from failure remember the value of learning from our mistakes and the grace necessary to fail together.

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Josh Neuer is a Licensed Professional Counselor who speaks worldwide about how individuals, families, and businesses can rewrite their story and ignite tangible and lasting results.  Josh is passionate about empowering change in communities. He is the founder of Joshua Neuer, LLC, a counseling and consulting business; a certified educator, husband, father, and is absolutely crazy about relationships. To learn more or see a list of services provided visit JoshNeuer.com.


Josh Neuer