Perfectionism is not a quest for the best,
it is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves,
the part that tells us nothing we do will ever be good enough.
Sally is a multi-lingual, well-traveled client who lives an interesting and “good” life. Heck, I wish I’d lived in half of the countries she’s lived.
She came to me because she’s tired of being mean to herself. She wants me to help her learn how to be more forgiving of her imperfections.
While she was growing-up, Sally’s mother (a single mom) expected her to be “perfect.” And so she placed upon her an array of harsh and unrealistic expectations.
Sally knows she can never attain “perfection,” BUT that realization causes her to slip into an attitude of, “what’s the use?”
Since there is “no use” she freezes and gives up on goals and projects. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle in both her professional and personal worlds.
She sabotages relationships. She sabotages work projects.
Sally’s perception of herself is critically distorted by her insistence on a fathom notion of perfection. When she says that she wants to learn how to be kind to herself, what she’s really saying is that she wants to learn how to get freed of perfections grip.
I’m convinced that the pursuit of perfection has caused more harm than any other character or personality “failing.”
How break the unrelenting cycle perfectionism creates?
Consider these questions:
- Who said you had to be perfect?
- Why was it important to them that you be perfect?
- Did they ever take the time to explain what would happen if you were not perfect?
- Have those dire predictions come true?
- Since you’re not perfect, how has your life suffered from being imperfect?
- If you were able to achieve perfection, how would your life be different?
- And if you were perfect how would the lives of the people you work with be different? The people you love?
- Since it’s unlikely (seriously) that you will achieve perfection, what can you do to achieve excellence?
- Could “excellence” give you as much satisfaction as “perfection?”
- Whatever your answer to #9, how do you know that answer is true?!
My suggestion – strive for excellence. Get acquainted and comfortable with excellence. Then – and only then – if you want, begin to strive for perfection.
I think you’ll find that excellence is not too shabby a place!
But – there’s more – always more!
A while ago I came across this passage and it was like that cliched splash of cold water in the face!
While the passage speaks to the experience of gay men, I think it speaks to the experience of so many – gay or straight, male, female or non-binary. I think it speaks to Sally’s experience and she is a straight, cisgender woman.
What would you like me to be? A great student? A priest in a church? Mother’s little man? The first-chair violinist? We became dependent on adopting the skin our environment imposed upon us to earn the love and affection we craved. How could we love ourselves when everything around us told us that we were unlovable? Instead, we chased the affection, approval, and attention doled out by others.
The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man’s World
By Alan Downs
What would you like me to be?
That’s the question Sally was trained to ask of her mother while growing-up. And her mother’s answer was always the same, “I want you to be perfect.”
It’s the question so many of us were trained to ask while growing-up. And the answer many of us received was, “I want you to b perfect.”
And then we grew-up and hadn’t a clue as to what “perfect” was supposed to look like and sound like and feel like.
Sally doesn’t know who she would like to be. She does know that “perfect” is no longer the right answer. From a place of confusion, she lashes out at herself and is unkind.
She asked me to help her learn how to be kind to herself.
The only way she will be kind to herself is if she learns and embraces who she would like to be.
And so, I’ll add two other questions to the above list of questions:
- Who do you want to be?
- What are you willing to do to become who you want to be?
Do you want to break through the negative thinking that is preventing you from being influential and heard?
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