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Brene Brown

4 destructive traits of perfectionism, from Dr. Brené Brown

And, Brené’s list of 5 things perfectionism is NOT

Brene Brown

TED Talks sensation Brené Brown, Ph.D., says it’s important to distinguish perfectionism from healthy striving for excellence.

The author spells out the destructive nature of perfectionism in her bestsellers The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, and Dare to Lead, an ideal read for those wanting to be a good leader.

Here are her definitions of perfectionism:


  1. Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of blame, judgement, and shame.

    2. Perfectionism is an unattainable goal. It’s 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 invariably do experience shame, judgement 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 actually sets us up to feel shame, judgement and blame, which then leads to more shame, judgement and blame: It’s my fault. I’m feeling this way because I’m not good enough. (See also Harvard Medical School psychologist Susan David's tips for stopping destructive self-talk)


And, here’s her take on what perfectionism is NOT:


  • It’s not striving for excellence. It’s not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is a defensive move.
  • It’s not the self-protection we think it is. It’s a 20 tonne shield we lug around, thinking it will protect us, when in fact it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from being seen.
  • Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfection is, at its core, about trying to earn approval. Early praise for achievement and performance has become a dangerous and debilitating belief system: “I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it, please, perform, perfect, prove.”
  • Perfectionism is not the key to success. In fact, research shows perfectionism hampers achievement and is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction and life paralysis, or missed opportunities. The fear of failing, making mistakes, not meeting people’s expectations, and being criticised keeps us outside the arena where healthy competition and striving unfolds.
  • Lastly, perfectionism is not a way to avoid shame. Perfectionism is a function of shame.

See also Brené Brown top tip: Assume Others are Doing the Best They Can 

Find out the Top 10 Leadership Qualities this year, and see how you measure up. Download our FREE guide:

More than 8000 saw and heard the research findings of author and research professor Dr Brené Brown at The Growth Faculty's 2019 event. Become a better leader. Join Growth Faculty with a 12 month Growth Faculty Pass and get unlimited access to the world's brightest minds. Your Growth Faculty pass gives you access to 40+ live virtual events, our On Demand library, networking opportunities and more. That's more than $7500 in value for just $498 AUD pp per yearSee upcoming events and learn more.


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