When You’re Stuck in Perfectionism – {Day 4}

by | Oct 4, 2013 | Uncategorized


Where perfectionism exists, shame is always lurking. In fact, shame is the birthplace of perfectionism. ~Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

I spent most of my formative years equating love with achievement and performance.

If I made good grades, first chair clarinet, captain of the cheerleading squad, and ran around with a crowd of high-achieving girlfriends, I believed I was good enough when everything around me at home was saying the opposite. If I couldn’t change my circumstances, I would earn love and acceptance by performing well and staying out of the way.

I took the slow, circuitous route toward believing that I am what I accomplish. And even now, when I’m in a position of risk, I feel like my entire self-worth is on the line. It’s why I’m procrastinating on writing my book.

Why else would a writer who has agents scouting her put it off?

A few months ago, while on vacation at our summer cottage in Canada, I sat on the couch in a silent trance, watching water droplets slide down the large pane windows in the living room, a computer resting on my legs.  The house and beach were silent; rain pushed vacationers inside like a doting grandmother.

My family planned to make the rain day productive, drove the hour into town with a shopping list. I gave myself permission to stay back and write with H’s blessing. It would be the first time in a week to open my computer.

I didn’t expect a solitary day of writing to become the day I started to recognize the voice of shame and the way it debilitates. But then again, so much of life doesn’t go according to plan, does it?


I sat down to write and began self-editing — on the first paragraph.

Erase.  Start over again. Erase. Repeat. Nothing was good enough.

For four hours I lived with the heaviness of inadequacy. At least that was the voice I was hearing. My attempt at writing was the introduction leading to chapters of self-criticism on a teeter-totter of themes.

The best part? I recognized the spiral of negativity leading to the black hole of unworthiness I was listening to in my head. And instead of giving up, I practiced what Brene Brown calls shame resilience.

I began telling myself the truth.

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10

Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely. Psalm 139:1-4

I paced around the living room until the rain stopped, then I took these photos and sat in a lawn chair on the beach writing in my journal. I thought about all that time I had to myself and how little I accomplished.


And then I realized that those hours I spent alone were actually a divine appointment. God’s intention for me that day wasn’t about writing, it was about finding wholeness.

A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life. ~Christopher K. Germer

How do you practice self-compassion?

This is day 4 of 31 Days of Letting Go in the Deep End, a series dedicated to chart the path towards the practice of  truly loving ourselves the way Jesus does. To find out more, click the button below or this link and add your email address to the Subscribe box in the sidebar so you don’t miss a thing.



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  1. Shelly Wildman

    Love this, Shelly. Absolutely love it. I find so much of myself here–the self-editing the first paragraph over and over and over again. The heaviness of inadequacy. But I love your solution–telling ourselves the truth. Thank you.

    • Shelly Miller

      Thankful to know it resonated Shelly, glad you are here.

  2. Maureen

    Reading the Gifts of imperfection, getting bogged down with the self-love. Too much self image jargon for me (which shows how much I need it?) Anyway, as I read, I translate it as self-care. Then, I can hear what she is saying. Loved this quote, self-compassion. Much needed. Totally with you on these posts – keep them coming! Thanks.

    • Shelly Miller

      Yes, I know what you mean Maureen, I’m reading it in the context of the truth of God’s Word too. But I do think that there is some wrong thinking in the Christian world, that when we talk about loving ourselves it is somehow selfish and wrong. And that isn’t the case, it can be, but that isn’t the kind of self-love we’re talking about in this series. Of course, I think you get that.

  3. DeanneMoore

    We would have been great “pals” only I was over doing the Student Council and Yearbook…:) So thankful for that day you sat watching the rain fall…for the gift you found while you were pushing that delete button. I haven’t done it in a while but I have often divided a page with a line. On one side I write “lies” and on the other “what is true.” Simple, I know but a powerful practice in shame resilience. Loving these posts my friend. Can’t believe we are getting them for a month! Whoop!

    • Shelly Miller

      I was the editor of our yearbook too. Yep, we probably would’ve been besties. Loved seeing Luke’s homecoming pic this morning. He’s so cute. Doesn’t homecoming (ours) feel like yesterday and forever ago?

      That exercise you do is a great example of shame resilience, really practical. Glad you are following along.

      • DeanneMoore

        He’s getting a haircut this morning before the festivities tonight! An issue, of course. Next book– parenting your “kind of adult” kids when you can’t throw them in the bed with a book and tell them its story time! 😉

  4. Kris Camealy

    I am so grateful for how God works–even as it often looks very different than we anticipated. I love the way he used that alone time you had to work some things out in you. What grace that is. And this book? Im so glad I am reading it.

    • Shelly Miller

      I’m glad you are reading it too Kris, its life changing stuff. God is so good to remind us that he deals with each of us uniquely. I don’t know why but I forget that more often than I would like. Thinking a lot about conformity and being a non-conformist at heart.

  5. Christie Purifoy

    And when we practice compassion with ourselves, we become so much more compassionate towards others.
    Thank you for this, Shelly!

    • Shelly Miller

      Conviction. I needed that.

  6. TeriLynneU

    Oh girl … this:

    I spent most of my formative years equating love with achievement and performance.

    Yes, so me. Thank you for sharing your story … and offering me the freedom to be honest with myself. So thankful for you!!

    • Shelly Miller

      I think we all grow up with some of those messages, don’t you? Thanks for being here Teri Lynne.

  7. LuAnn

    As I read (it seemed like for the first time) “May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God”. I had a revelation that day, that I was living a very “If…then” life. If I can figure it all out, if I can be a better … (there were so many titles it would take too long to list them all) If I, If I, If I… then I would satisfy my deep hunger and I would be strong-able to be and do what God wanted me to do.
    I was “undone”. Paul wrote, prayed that I would experience the love of Jesus, then I would be filled with all the fullness of life.
    I began to give up “doing” that day and I asked God to help me experience Jesus love. I started hearing things like, “don’t do that,”, “just sit down,” “say no,” and my personal favorite, “don’t do that for her”. Some people may have not understood, my house is not very clean, and my work spaces are not well ordered. But my I am experiencing life in all its fullness. Thank You Jesus.

    • Shelly Miller

      Yes, you live this out well LuAnn, better than most people I know. And I rarely see you waver from that, which a great gift as your friend watching you do life (when I can see you now that we live so darn far apart). Thanks for sharing this, its good stuff to marinate in.

  8. Missindeedy

    The thought of self-compassion feels… selfish of me. Just writing that out belies my need for so much more self-compassion. The few times when I flex this muscle, I find myself being gracious – to myself. And it feels foreign.

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