Toxic perfectionism keeps women from becoming leaders

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Jeanette Blain | News Editor | [email protected]
Photo credit: Mike Richardson

Women were encouraged to embrace their imperfections Nov. 3 at a panel discussion in the Ragan Theatre.

The event, entitled You’re Already Good Enough: Embracing Imperfection & Cultivating Confidence is part of an ongoing series designed to empower women and encourage them to seek leadership positions.

The panel included four therapists and authors; Julie de Azevedo Hanks, Kris Doty, Julie Clark, and Ruth Terrison-McKane. It was moderated by UVU’s Susan Madsen, professor of leadership and ethics and founder of the Utah Women & Leadership Project.

Perfectionism is one thing that leads women to feel like they are not good enough the panel agreed.

Doty said there are two types of perfectionism, adaptive and maladaptive perfection. It becomes maladaptive when women start to take the need to be perfect too far. She calls it toxic perfectionism. When women feel they always have to be perfect, that idea is at odds with the internal realization that no one can be perfect. This duality can lead to depression.

According to Doty, women also fall into the trap of judging each other and comparing themselves to each other. She said if women would focus more on each other’s strengths and be cheerleaders for each other they would find themselves happier and more at peace.

Clark said that another harmful habit is “mind-reading”. This is when someone believes they know what another person is thinking when they really do not.

“If in doubt, check it out,” she said. “If you’re not willing to check it out, let it go.”

Gerritsen-McKane said that women are socialized to believe that they are in competition with other women.

She said she calls herself fat during the class she teaches at University of Utah, but she uses the word as a descriptor and not a judgement.

“Things are what they are, and so what?” she said.

According to Madsen plastic surgery rates are high in Utah, but women with higher levels of education are less likely to have plastic surgery. This implies that women with more education are more accepting of the way they look.

Hanks said that women are in charge of their identities. Sometimes women feel like they are not supposed to have ambitions of achieving great things in education or work, but they should find their own paths.

“Everybody has a unique contribution. Your life is not going to look like anyone else’s and that’s beautiful,” Hanks said.

The panel agreed that women need to get past what they feel they are “supposed” to do.

“Be who you are, be authentic, be real,” Clark said, “and you will lead.”

UVU student Katelynn Kelley said she came to the event after hearing about it in her family psychology class.

“I have a problem with perfectionism,” she said, adding that she learned a lot from the panel about the subject.

At the conclusion of the event, attendees were invited to stay for refreshments and converse with each other about what they had learned from the panel.