Are you engaged in the pursuit of being “perfect” having the “perfect” relationship, job, life? The dictionary describes perfection as “freedom from fault or defect” and if this is what you are striving for you might be denying your intrinsic human nature by placing extreme pressure on yourself. I prefer the urban dictionary’s definition “an impossibility, something unattainable, something that cannot be reached…ever.”
We aren’t supposed to be perfect. When we place too much emphasis on achievement we become human “doers” on a mission to prove our perfection status. We have set ourselves up for an impossible challenge. Every time that we fall short of attaining our impossible perfection goals we judge ourselves harshly and our self worth plummets. People will then berate themselves saying, “I’m just not good enough”. This insecurity poisons every aspect of our lives and we redouble our efforts to work harder at being the perfect human worker, partner, friend and then naturally fail.
Lose Perfect, Embrace “Good Enough”
We get bent out of shape and hung up about being or finding the perfect self, partner, friendships. Relationships aren't necessarily like engineering a highrise, where the architect's measurements must be accurate. It makes a big difference 70 floors up. What I would like to suggest, is that we would have far better emotional health, relationships, and a sense of self if we would begin to metabolize and integrate into our mentality the concept Donald Winnicott proposes of being "good enough" as people. Winnicott was a British pediatrician and psychoanalyst who suggested that the happiness or upheaval we experience in our adult lives could be traced to the way we were treated by our parents as children.
He said, “Tell me what you fear and I will tell you what has happened to you.”
The Good, The Bad and the Unnecessary
If you spend time around children, or have some of your own, you may have noticed that the concept of good and bad emerges as almost a developmental stage. Shortly after, we begin to get this idea that 'good' is based off of 'perfect.' We see how others parent, or the behavior of their children and think to ourselves, "gosh they are such a good parent, their kids are so well behaved." It is intimidating, and on some level self-shaming because it conveys an element of hoping that we can be like that, but are far from it right now.
Often the obsession with perfection is a tell tale sign that we are trying to compensate for a perceived sense of inadequacy. Perfectionists actually believe that they have way more shortcomings than the rest of humankind and have to make up for it. These are the children that received damaging parental messaging that they weren’t “good enough” growing up. This started the race to banish all flaws to catch up to all the other “superior” people out there. Where do you think you are sitting on the perfection hamster wheel?
If you have read some of my other posts, you'll know that I'm not big on quick fixes. You can find temporary relief from troubles relatively quickly, but lasting change takes time and involves the unearthing and reflecting on the sometimes troubling life we've had. To do this, I think we have to begin to look into and work out our past and what has made us who we are today.
First Home Repairs
I know how ambiguous and vague it sounds to start to investigate one's far off early life. Most of us have little memory of our early life experiences that impacted us the most. They are mostly unconscious, but those experiences are likened to the foundation of a home. The body remembers, and our psychology and way of being in the world is built upon these experiences. Oliver James (2014) says it so succinctly, "If you can gain an accurate knowledge of how you were cared for as a child and develop insight into how it governs your present experience, it can transform who you are" (14).
Revisiting Your Building Blocks
What does it look like to undergo this deep work? People seem to think that when they meet with a therapist to do this "deep work" of investigating our early life experiences that we are talking about how our mother cared for us and some memories we are unsure of. No, very seldom actually. We're talking about your day, what someone said to you a day or two ago via text, your recent work evaluation, your relationship with your partner, or any interaction that leaves you feeling unsteady.
If we come back to the metaphor of a high rise that I used earlier, say we revisit that building 100 years later because it needs work. At this point we likely have little idea how that building was built, but we can begin to get an idea based on how the building has aged and the problems that we begin to see as we dust off, probe, and scope the walls.
How does this translate into your life, right now? This deep work sounds enticing, exciting to undergo, and also daunting all at the same time because we often don't know where to begin. There is no better place to begin than where you are at, with what you are dealing with, whatever it is, its enough to begin a powerful process of transformation. As you start to look at what maintenance your “house” might need make sure you aren’t aiming to pull everything down to rebuild a “perfect” home.