Perfectionism, ADHD and Shame

If you have ADHD, no doubt you have heard all too often that “you don’t try hard enough” or some other such message that has pushed your shame buttons. This can lead some individuals to give up and lead others to strive harder, sometimes getting caught in a perfectionist mentality.

One way many of us try to manage feelings of shame is by perfectionism. We think we need to do our schoolwork, our projects on the job, our ___________  (fill in the blank) perfectly so that we will seem good and worthy.

But, perfectionism is dangerous because we are all only human – and as a result, imperfect!

Perfection, says Brene Brown, PhD, shame researcher and author of  The Gifts of Imperfection, is not an attainable goal.

So, we create a vicious cycle in which we may try harder and harder to be perfect and feel less and less perfect and then become more and more discouraged and overwhelmed and less and less able to move forward effectively. 

Perfectionism contributes to procrastination (and stress!) because the burden of feeling a need to write the ‘perfect’ school paper or complete the work project ‘perfectly’ makes the task so intimidating and overwhelming it becomes hard to to even begin! Or, it leads to revising and revising until past a due-date.

But, perfectionism can be addressed. (And, don’t worry, addressing perfectionism doesn’t mean not caring or not doing a good job on things. It just means learning to work from a perspective of accepting yourself first!)

In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene’ Brown shares the following quotation from Anna Quindlen:

“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.”

Brown talks about a process of shifting from ‘perfectionism’ talk to ‘healthy-striving’ talk — from “I need to get this done perfectly,” which is based on worrying how one will be perceived, to operating from the internal motivation of “I care about this project and I want to figure out how to get it done well.”

Here are a few things to think about:

  • If you struggle with procrastination, ask yourself if perfectionism might be a part of it. (Other factors like planning and time-management skills can play a role too.)
  • If you identify some perfectionism, ask yourself what you are afraid of (often it is not being good enough or worthy enough). Consider whether you really want to have that fear driving you.
  • If you feel inside that you don’t measure up somehow, ask yourself whether you are using the correct measure! 

If you feel stuck by procrastination, perfectionism or other aspects of ADHD, consider coaching. Coaching is a partnership that can help you develop awareness, identify goals and learn strategies for forward movement.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic and

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