The fastest way to break the cycle of perfectionism and become a fearless mother
is to give up the idea of doing it perfectly
– indeed to embrace uncertainty and imperfection. – Arianna Huffington
My teenager’s room is a nightmare! She moves heaps, and I mean heaps of clothes from her bed to the floor, every morning and every evening. Her room can get so intensely horrendous that even her friends have sometime refused to come over. Despite my constant nagging, and her peer pressure, her daily dump and dig-through habit has not changed, so I gave up trying.
I just close the door (if I can). When I FINALLY get the teen to clean her room (through some intense negotiations and mother guilt) it turns into a 24 hour ordeal! NO exaggeration. Not because she lies on her bed and texts instead of folding (bahahahahahahahahahahahaha….sigh) – it’s because she has to organize every drawer, alphabetize her books (you know the dusty ones), AND she has to rearrange ALL her furniture, EVERY TIME!!! DRIVES ME INSANE!!!! When all I wanted was to see her floor, and have physical proof that there are no dead animals rotting under her bed.
My daughter, is the classic example, of the discouraged perfectionist and she got it from me!
Well I used to be a discouraged perfectionist but as I got older and had more control and stress in my life, I reincarnated myself into Martha Stewart’s evil twin and perfectionism took over my life.
I had never been one to keep my home in a perfect state, or fold my laundry a certain way (though I do know the only right way to do it!) but my anxiety and embarrassment, had me scrambling before company would come over, incase they thought our family of 7 actually lived, ate, and played in my home. If my house wasn’t ‘perfect’ then I was profusely apologizing and anxious for my company to leave before they discovered my family also made clothes dirty and wore shoes. I became so good at the charade that I became known as the “how does she do it lady?”
By the time I had my 5th child, I tried to maintain the “how does she do it all?”. Not because I was prideful, or even necessarily insecure, but so desperate for approval, and if they knew I didn’t have it all together then they would reject me. In my mind I wasn’t a lovable person, but I could look like one.
I had been so painfully rejected and abandoned in the past, that I had taught myself that “me” wasn’t enough, so I had a very low bar which led to very poor decisions. So when I discovered God’s complete unconditional love for me, He began to rebuild my life, to a place where I didn’t have to feel ashamed or less than everyone else. I actually began to feel worthy to just be me. It didn’t last long, like I said, I swung from being a discouraged rejected perfectionist to the other side, because I hadn’t dealt with the root issues, so it manifested.
Society feeds into this painful retreat for approval. They say money makes the world go around? I say, the need for approval makes the world go around (and then flat on its face) Through media, and other perfectionists living lies, we learn if we want acceptance from them, then we must perform. Even religion can totally kill the inner ‘unconditional’ love that we were meant to live in. When I had given my life to God, and found purpose and love through Him, I began to flourish. I was finally who I was meant to be, but because my life was starting to ‘look’ better (because it was better) I began ‘earning’ approval and began stepping up into leadership roles.
In order for me to maintain any leadership position, I had to have a pretty ‘put together’ life. We got highly praised if we did, and put aside and rebuked if we didn’t and I just fell apart. This wasn’t the church’s fault, but what they didn’t realize, was that they were dealing with an addict. This ‘Christian’ expectation was like crack to an approval addict. My entire inner self was wired to avoid rejection and gain approval. Many churches adopt this “world” model of leadership, this ‘approval’ pressure drives people like me to succeed, and successful people create successful churches. I don’t think it is done out of malice, but it can be very damaging, and a fast road to burnout.
Well, I could only ride that train for so long before it completely derailed me.
It was a Saturday morning, and my dad had called to say he was coming into town (he lives 6 hrs away) so it was a very impromptu visit. (my Dad’s favourite kind!) What was meant to be a relaxing family day of puttering, turned into a neo-nazi work camp, which included a sparkle and shine regime and a 4 course dinner, with jello whip cream pie! (amazing recipe by the way!)
Minutes were counting down, and the entire house was perfection, (besides the little hand print on the window, the cracker crumb under the couch, and the sled in the front yard!) My face was red, my heart rate up, he would be here any second, and the jelly cake had to set, and the stew had to boil! As I was carrying the pie to the fridge, the door bell rang, and I turned to ask the kids to quickly fluff the pillows before they door was opened. (seriously, it’s 2014! Who fluffs pillows?!)
The entire sticky and sloshing, unset jello/whip cream pie slipped and tipped, all over my kitchen floor, all over me and all over my perfectionism. So, I did what every perfectionist does, I laughed it off calmly as I welcomed in my dad, cleaned up the mess, and excused myself to the bathroom and BAWLED MY EYES OUT!!!!!!!!
Some of you are reading this and are saying “stupid woman!”and that’s okay, but some of you are reading this and saying
“Oh My Ghandi, that’s me!”
You get it! You’ve been the one to spend 5 hours decorating and crying over play school treat day baking.
You’re the mom who said “yes!” to volunteering for ALL the volunteering, because you don’t want anyone to think you’re an uninvolved mom.
You’re the handsome man who can’t relax on a weekend if your to-do list isn’t complete (cough..cough…)
You’re the closet writer who refuses to send in a manuscript, incase you are rejected, because you don’t think it’s perfect yet.
You’re the person who doesn’t even bother cleaning, or caring for yourself or your house anymore, because if it can’t be perfect, don’t bother!
HMMMM… all of a sudden I’m not such a stupid woman after all.
Perfectionism is probably the number one joy killer in our lives. We are either completely controlled by it, living in a state of misery and anxiety if things are not as you would like them, OR we avoid the pressure of perfectionism, by being a lazy procrastinator- “if I can’t do it perfect, then I won’t bother doing it all.”
Fear of failure, a desire to be loved, a search for significance or approval, fear of criticism or rejection, are just a few underlying factors of the highly miserable perfectionist or discouraged perfectionist, and there is nothing perfect in that!
Perfectionism can literally destroy our relationships, and our inner joy.
When I am on the other side of the perfectionist coin, I absolutely hate it, and I dread visiting homes and working closely with other perfectionists. There always seems to be this intense risk of being rejected or failing in front of them, because their bar is so high. Even if they are not outspoken about it, you can feel their anxiety. This stress lingers over them. As a guest, I became anxious that I will do the wrong thing, or in the wrong order and they will correct me, or “do it their way, cause it’s better.” It’s not because they are horrible people, or even judgemental. Most perfectionist are very loving and kind, because they have such high need for approval. But what I realized being on the other side of the perfectionism, is how intimidating it made me and others feel and that helped me to stop cleaning up before my good friends arrived and letting go of my expectations. Once I realized that creating this illusion was pushing others away, and making me miss moments, because I was overtired, and exhausted, I changed.
There is nothing more welcoming, and calming, than a home filled with life. And life has clutter, and unfinished projects because something else more important came up. Nothing is more loving and accepting than someone who says “the dishes will wait, let’s have tea”, or “hey! Don’t worry about the house for Grandpa, let’s plan a fun activity we can do together when he gets here!”
Our failures will sometimes be rejected and sometimes we just won’t measure up, but perhaps it’s not our mountain to climb. We tell our kids, it’s not about winning it’s about having fun ALL THE TIME, yet we are the worst poor sports!
Maybe if we let go and realize deeply that our love is unconditional, from God our father, who is perfect, and not fear man so much – then maybe some pretty amazing imperfect things may come our way!
Life outside the box, it’s a wonderful thing!
5 thoughts on “Is your perfectionism destructive and intimidating?”
This is an awesome awesome post, Sarah! I LOVE it!!
Such a good post once again