I think that my actor training trained me to be a Perfectionist.

Well, I think my actor training amplified my Shame. And I think that amplification birthed a shining Perfectionist.

Gear up, there’s gonna be a lot of Brené Brown references in here.


I’m sitting on my uncomfortable red couch in my sweet London living room with the sun filtering through the window. I look up from my book and I can see myself in the reflection of the window: Red flannel pjs, yellow and white blanket wrapped around my crossed legs, hair pulled back, book in hand. It’s a picturesque Sunday morning image, and I smile a bit, only to realize that my face is mostly in shadow and I can’t really see my own expression.

Does that mean something? Dunno. Just interesting. Anyway.

I’m reading “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brené Brown and there’s a sentence that stops me:

Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love, belonging, and connection.

I literally look up from reading and I mouth the words again to the tree outside my window. My eyes get big.

“Holy shit.”

How many parts of my actor training were about identifying and training out my “flaws”? Removing my odd quirks and habits so that I could be as “neutral” as possible? (wtf is NEUTRAL anyway??? neutral according to WHO?)

There is no separation in actor training between actor skills and the person doing the acting. My body is my instrument. If I’m told that my body needs to look different for a role, that’s still MY body.

If you tell an accountant that they need to improve their maths in order to get a better job, that’s not a personal reflection on them as a human being. That’s an outside skill that they can go learn, and then get that job.

If I’m told my accent needs to change in order to get hired, that’s MY accent. My identity. My culture. That’s a lot you’re asking me to erase so I can put food on my table.

“Othering” an actor in this way can produce Shame. (ie, You are Other. You are Different. Different is Wrong. Fix it so you can get Work.)

I’ve heard acting teachers protect themselves by claiming objectivity when pointing out “flaws” in their acting student. They know the industry, they say, it’s not personal, they say, this is just “how it works.” The actor becomes objectified. If I’m an object, if I’m less than human, then my acting teacher doesn’t have to wrestle with my full identity in the space before they say shit like, “If you want to be an actor, you need to lose some weight.”

Bam. Shame.

Let’s say I’ve taken a couple of acting classes, my very first ones. I’ve learned what “Actor’s Neutral” is, with my feet facing forward, my knees and hips stacked over my ankles, my arms hanging at my sides, my gaze in front of me. I’ve been told that this is what a “good” actor’s stance looks like, and that my usual stance, with my hip out and my hands in my pockets, is wrong. If I want a career doing this, my teacher says, I need to “train out” my habits. So, I’m now practicing Actor’s Neutral all over the place, and every time I catch myself in my usual stance I think, “Ugh! I’m doing it wrong again. If I want to be a good actor, Actor’s Neutral has to become my norm.”

I’m getting really good at self-shaming during this process.

I’m also getting really good at Perfectionism.


Perfectionism is addictive because when we invariably do experience shame, judgment, and blame, we often believe it’s because we weren’t perfect enough. So rather than questioning the faulty logic of perfectionism, we become even more entrenched in our quest to live, look, and do everything just right.

Shame —> Perfectionism —> More shame —> More perfectionism.

Here’s a fun irony: I was often told during my actor training, “Get out of your head!” “Make mistakes!” “Fail BIG!” “Don’t be afraid to fuck up!” There is lip service to risk-taking even as it’s reinforced that some risk-taking is…well….too risky.

I understood as a young actor that some risk-taking was rewarded while other risk-taking was not. Tapping into personal trauma during class in order to feel more deeply in a scene? Rewarded. Raising my hand to ask to not participate in an exercise because it was too triggering for me? Not rewarded. I learned to walk this line extremely well. I got Straight A’s and Honors and all kinds of rewards for letting my Perfectionist and my Fear of Shame lead me through my acting training.


Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance. Most perfectionists were raised being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule-following, people-pleasing, appearance, sports). Somewhere along the way, we adopt this dangerous and debilitating belief system: I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect. Healthy striving is self-focused—How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused — What will they think?

Gonna repeat that for those in the back: “Somewhere along the way, we adopt this dangerous and debilitating belief system: I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it.”

My instrument is my body, my voice, my mind, my soul.

If we tell actors that their body, their voice, their mind, their soul, is not Correct, that it needs changing in order to be a working actor, we uphold this dangerous line of thinking:

—> Being an accomplished actor means that I am worthy, because I am my work.

—> Being an unaccomplished actor means that I am unworthy, because I am my work.

Somewhere along my actor training, I learned that I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it.


After years of this habituated cycle, after reinforcing those Perfectionist neural pathways, I’ve found that even when I’m in spaces where imperfection is embraced, where I’m strongly encouraged to step into my own Authenticity, where I’m asked not to assimilate or People-Please but to stand in my own Truth, I struggle.

Being encouraged not to People-Please immediately leads me into thinking, “Okay, how can I show my teacher how great I’m doing at NOT People-Pleasing?”

I’ve been finding that I have to very gently, very kindly break that cycle of thinking by asking myself, “Wait a second Caitlin. What if this assignment wasn’t about the teacher at all? If this wasn’t about proving something, what would you actually want to do?”

What’s terrifying is that often I don’t have a response to this voice. I don’t know. There’s this weird silence that follows.

Then I get a timid little voice, “Maybe I’d want to do this for the assignment…”

But before I can even finish the thought I’m already comparing it in my head to guess as to how the teacher would react.

I think for me, this is a success. This tiny gap I’m creating…I hope that this is the baby step that needs to happen in order to de-condition myself from years of Perfectionism, People-Pleasing, and Shame.


It’s now 1 o’clock on a Sunday. I’ve changed out of the flannels and uploaded a picture and tried writing this conclusion several times.

Writing this post has made me realize how many threads there are here…

—> The history (and present) behind “othering” actors in their training…the colonialism behind that, the racism and sexism and homophobia and abelism behind that…

—> How has my positionality affected my experience of perfectionism in actor training? How have other folks experienced it?

—> How perfectionism might erase boundaries for actors…how actors learn to distinguish (or not) the difference between discomfort and danger in their training…

I mean, fucking hell. I could write five dissertations on this, let alone the one that I’ll be working on at the end of this year.

Where to start?!?!

Pshaahhhugggghhhhoooooyyy: The sound one makes when they realize they signed up for all of this.

Hot damn.


Love you all.

I hope this finds you breathing,

in a moment of ease.

Maybe with a sweet furry friend by your side,

a cup of something hot and steaming in your hand.

With love,


P.S. Tell me about your relationship to Perfectionism below. Has it changed? If so, how, when, why?