• Clare Gardner Nieto

Perfectionism Undermines Power & Authentic Communication

Learning from Others


Esther Perel, Season 2, Episode 4: Leaving the Shame Behind

Other topics included in this podcast: talking to kids, imperfection, powerlessness, verbal abuse, changing life expectations


I'm totally obsessed with Ester Perel lately. I've been binge-listening her brilliant couples therapy podcast "Where Should We Begin?" I love that no matter how different the couples seem from me, I always learn something or gain deeper insight into myself and my relationships.

During this session, Esther talks to a couple who have experienced an intense amount of trauma within a short period of time; from a benign brain tumor for her to a car accident and massive heart failure for him. His health issues completely altered his/their life and he can’t live the way he used to. He feels stuck and frustrated. He’s struggling with shame and self-doubt. He feels powerless and useless. One of the topics they discuss is his habit of taking his frustrations out on their two boys verbally.

EP: Do you apologize afterwards?

Him: No.

EP: How come?

Him: Because I feel embarrassed. I don’t want to lose my authority. Don’t want them to feel that I make any mistakes... even if I do.

EP: If you explode and you tell them “I’m sorry. That was not about you,” you don’t lose your authority. You don’t appear weak. You teach your boys self-awareness. You teach them a sense of responsibility about how they effect others. You teach them humility. You teach them that true strength is the ability to say I’m sorry. And you’re not weaker because of it.

Him: That makes sense. May be a much better way of dealing with it.

By not taking responsibility for his own actions and emotions, he was feeding them his shame and self-doubt. By trying to seem powerful, he diminished their sense of power and still didn’t feel powerful in himself. By pretending he was perfect, he was lying to them and carrying the burden of that lie. They could see right in front of them that he wasn't perfect. They knew in their hearts that what he was saying was not true. Their young brains were trying desperately to make sense of two conflicting sources of truth—the father and the self. In a supreme act of subconscious self-sabotage, he was gradually undermining his own power and authority while sadly placing terrible mental and emotional hardship on his sons.


Taking responsibility and talking about it removes the shame. It builds healthy, honest communication which is an amazing foundation for loving relationships.


Esther’s response to him is so beautiful and healing. She has an amazing talent for speaking compassionately and without judgement which means that people can hear her through the noise inside their heads. It allows for people to internalize what she says. I think he did, too.


Sending good vibes out to this guy, whoever he is, in hopes that he’s made good practice of this learning. Many thanks to Esther Perel for her wisdom and the succinct beauty of her response.


© 2017-2020 Clare Gardner Nieto