The Trickery of Perfectionism

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I recently attended an event where I was faced with questions about my own worthiness. Could I walk into the room and remain present, be who I really am? Or would I slather on the paint of perfection? It can be seductive to make your life ‘look good’ to the rest of the world. Hiding mistakes and getting mired into the need to appear like you have it ‘all together, all the time’ is flat out trickery, both for you as well as others. The very idea that a road to perfection exists sounds more like hell than anything I have ever considered. Yet daily, I hear people fearing they did not do something perfectly, that they are not the perfect person and must continue to trudge away until they finally check off the box:

                                                       √   Perfection

When we attempt to follow the path to perfection, a core truth emerges. We see ourselves as not worthy of love and belonging. We fear so intensely that if anyone, even those closest to us, knew who we really were, everyone would believe that we are not worth being loved. So we hide behind pretty cars, perfectly manicured houses, sweet smiles and starched dresses at church on Sunday morning. We paint the perfect picture to everyone around us, even to ourselves, in an attempt to hide the fact that we are flawed, imperfect and maybe even worse, that we struggle.

It can be rather annoying as a therapist when others expect me to have the answers to every relationship question. I must have the “perfect family, perfect child and the perfect life.” Whenever I hear that, I stick out my tongue and feel like I must be swallowing vinegar. Perfectionism is an unattainable, magical place much like fairies and superheroes. Frankly, I want nothing to do with unattainable. Instead, it is healthy for us to find our way towards good enough. This does not mean relinquishing ourselves from goal setting or making plans about our future. But, if we do it with the expectation that perfection is necessary; we will inevitably be left feeling alone, unworthy and unsatisfied with our results.

You might be wondering what I did when faced with the question of fitting in? As adults, we are challenged to not shrink and become small, or race in and try to gobble up all the feelings of not fitting in, thereby forcing ourselves to become someone we are not, trying to be perfect. Well, the truth is, I struggled. I allowed myself to become small and wanted to just disappear. I did not remain present as my truest self. Although I actively work on seeing myself as good enough, that moment got away from me and I shrank. I allowed myself to operate from a place of unworthiness and my best self did not show up. I am imperfect and I struggle. When we see ourselves as good enough, a mistake does not lead us to place that puts our worth on the line. Instead, when I left, I emotionally chewed threw it with the people I love and reminded myself of these words I created that are now an art piece in my home:

In Our Home………

We Honor Vulnerability

Teach and Practice Compassion

We Cry, We Give BIG HUGS…….

We invite Beauty in being Ourselves

We are Imperfect

We are Good Enough……….

All Who enter……shall receive our GIFTS

May we each strive towards our best selves; flawed, sometimes troubled and full of struggle. You are good enough, just the way you are. You are imperfect and therefore beautiful, because you struggle, just like me.

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2 thoughts on “The Trickery of Perfectionism”

  1. I struggle with this to the point of it being debilitating.I used to live in fear that someone would see me and all of my flaws and wonder why I felt worthy. I am actively working to change my outlook. and I started a new job that most people would look down on. Though I make mistakes, I have been able to say to myself “You are learning, you will make mistakes.”

    When do you find that you struggle with this the most? It seems for me I struggle with being myself when I am learning something, I feel like I have to get it right the first time.

  2. Jekaren- I think I struggle with this most when I do not fit in and I KNOW it. I am so acutely aware of other people that when I recognize that I am not ‘one of them’, I can easily shrink in fear of appearing haughty or elitist. Funny thing is that I may appear that way, but it is not my problem.

    What helps me when I am learning something new and making mistakes is that what makes me a better human being is NOT in doing it right every time the first time, but in my ability to circle back and try, try again. I find it difficult, but recognize that I am so much closer and love those in my circle of trust when they fuck up and circle back- rather than trying to be perfect every time.

    In work, it is simply in the Imposter police of the “title”. You are a writer. I am a writer. But I sometimes wait for the white coated, white men with their official embroidered names and clip boards to take away my accomplishments that are on paper. But I have to realize even IF that ever happened, my mind would not dissolve into mush. And my guess is that your mistakes make you a better writer, a better human…..

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