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Toxic Perfectionism Might Be Holding You Back

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This Women’s Month, we spoke to the incredible Donna Marie Johnson about toxic perfectionism, its effects, and how to overcome it.

Author Donna Marie Johnson, MA-EL, has been a leadership development speaker, trainer, and coach for over 9 years. She has a compassionate counselor personality and is passionate about excellence based on realistic, attainable standards for herself and for teams where she collaborates. Since 2014, she has led small business leadership podcasts, seminars, and webinars that benefit women leaders in the local community and globally online. Her first published book, “Small Biz Big Impact but How? How Conscious Selfless Servants Impact the World” was published in its first edition in 2019 with the goal of showing spiritually-oriented small, micro, and solo business leaders how they can impact the world in expansive ways based on the wisdom of their forbears. She is also a wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend who cherishes her family and seeks to support them in prospering in every area of their lives.

Who is Donna Marie Johnson?

I am a woman who was born to lead. My name, Donna Marie, literally means “Lady Leader”. I used to think that all women get trained to lead, until I started meeting more women who expressed that they had not been taught any real leadership skills by other leaders. The leadership training and mentorship were provided to their male counterparts by default, but were not made readily available to them. My own experience was that I was always mentored by leaders to be a leader due to being involved in the honors societies at the schools I attended. I just thought that all of the students had access to this, but now I know they did not.

It’s International Women’s Month! What does Women’s Month mean to you?

Women’s month is the time when I reflect on the women who have impacted me most. This includes my mother and her four sisters who are all very strong successful women. It also includes my father’s sister, who was one of the most beautiful and kindest souls that I ever had the honor of knowing. Women’s month is the time when meekness is celebrated as strength and unconditional love is embraced as a superpower. As an empathic, compassionate person, I love to celebrate the women who have been all of this in my life.

What is toxic perfectionism? How does it hold us back from achieving our goals and living happy, fulfilled lives?

Toxic perfectionism is very sneaky. It’s like the covert bully that hides out like a little devil on your shoulder, but you may think it’s an angel because it seems to be telling you good “constructive criticism”. Its aim is to twist and distort the truth so that what is good in your life and in your work now becomes not good enough. Its aim is to poke and prod you into trying to constantly prove yourself, instead of just standing in your authenticity and power. It wants you to doubt yourself and second-guess your decisions. It is destructive by trying to get you to devalue your own self with unrealistic expectations that are completely unattainable. It can pose as “black excellence” or as “black girl magic”, but it is never satisfied with your excellence nor magic. Unfortunately, perfectionism can even be so toxic that it leads to self-harm or even suicide, which has been an unfortunate frequent occurrence as seen by news reports about high achievers who are no longer with us over the past few years.
Perfectionism holds you back because it is a myth. It is a lie. No one can ever be totally perfect. However, everyone can be good enough in the moment and then improve over time.
As I write this article, I am thinking whether it’s good enough or not. That little imp of perfectionism is trying to undermine me as I write this, but I choose not to let it and to just keep moving forward.

A recent study found that women are more likely to be perfectionists than men, and that they tend to have more stress than men too. Why do you think this is? What challenges and expectations might lead to toxic perfectionism.

Psychology researchers have found that perfectionism is unhealthy because it can cause the person to develop self-hatred due to not living up to unrealistic standards, and this self-hatred can lead to suicidal thoughts (Smith, Sherry, Chen, Saklofske, Mushquash, Flett & Hewitt, 2018). Unfortunately, I know this personally, and my experience with self-hatred was before social media was as prevalent as it is now. In this current era, the images of women shared on social media are crafted to perfection, but it is not real, even though it seems to be real. For a woman or girl who is not rooted or grounded in her own self-esteem, being bombarded by inauthentic images of perfection sets them up to compare themselves, to fall short of unattainable standards of beauty, and to hate themselves as a result.

So how can we overcome toxic perfectionism as women?

  • Choose joy
  • Choose gratefulness
  • Choose loving (reciprocal) relationships over everything else

Not necessarily in that order.

Follow Donna Marie Johnson on Social Media here to learn more!

And check out her Amazon Author’s page here.

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