Sunday, April 10, 2011

Perfectionism isn't

Perfectionism from the web dictionary:

noun /pərˈfekSHəˌnizəm/
Refusal to accept any standard short of perfection
A doctrine holding that religious, moral, social, or political perfection is attainable, esp. the theory that human moral or spiritual perfection should be or has been attained
Web definitions
a disposition to feel that anything less than perfect is unacceptable; "his perfectionism seemed excessive to his students"

In ethics and value theory, perfectionism is the persistence of will in obtaining the optimal quality of spiritual, mental, physical, and material being. ...

perfectionist - a person who is displeased by anything that does not meet very high standards

Also intolerant of making mistakes.

Perfectionism has a basis in the idea that wouldn't everything be wonderful if everyone was perfect and behaved perfectly.  Perfect manners, perfect speech, perfect health, perfect cleanliness, a perfect world and all will be well.  The only flaw in this beautiful plan is this world is filled with imperfect people.  That doesn't stop some people, perfectionist, from trying to achieve this pinnacle of "rightness," especially when they have a child at their beck and call.  Their own precious child they will make them perfect.  The whips of expectations of perfection, criticism, name calling, extreme discipline are used to mold and shape these little ones into the image of perfection in the eyes of the parents.  They even quote the Bible saying, "Be ye therefore perfect..." Matthew 5:48. The flaw in the plan, the parent does not always see clearly.  What is perfect in the parents eyes may be total disaster in the child's eye.  Who but a perfectionist expects a child on their first attempt to accomplish perfection?  Who but a perfectionist would know in their own mind what is perfect for someone else?

I first started understanding the horrors of perfectionism and the abuse one dishes out to achieve it was from FlyLady.  I was amazed by her diatribes on the evil of perfectionism.  This is a link to her review of perfectionism.  I learned that I could do many things in 15 minute baby-steps, that good enough is ok, spotless is not better, I thought FlyLady was wonderful.  Then I realized that in her own way she is a bit of a perfectionist.  I don't think she means to but in her zeal for teaching another way, from time to time, she gets carried away that her way is 'perfect.'  Now for anyone frustrated with a messy house I can say that her method is excellent for bringing about order.  Because of FlyLady, I no longer buy something for my house unless I am going to love it.  I swish-n-swipe my bathroom in about 2 minutes flat instead of the 15 minutes my mother taught me to clean that one room.  I actually see my shiny kitchen sink on a regular basis.  I learned a lot from her and I highly recommend her site as a place to bring order to your house.  But she is not a cure-all to the disease of perfectionism.

I was raised mostly by my mother with some in put from my father.  Unfortunately, my mother demonstrates many attributes of a narcissistic with perfectionist tendencies.  (She would never stay in counseling long enough to get a diagnosis.  Even though several of her medical doctors insisted that she needed counseling.)  She considered herself not a perfectionist because her 'Mommy' was the ultimate perfectionist.  "If you can get 99%, you can get 100%."  My NM recognized that she couldn't achieve perfection herself but she could teach her daughters to be perfect.  She didn't feel the boys needed any correction since males were born perfect.  Only the girls needed to be the perfect weight, perfect look, perfect housekeeper, perfect student, perfect child.  Guess what?  I failed miserably.  I am not perfect in anything except maybe a perfect mess.  

Eight years of counseling and I am still struggling with my mess.  I have learned tolerance of the mistakes of others.  I have learned that 'good enough is good enough.'  I have learned that a D is a passing grade.  I have learned that children thrive in a world where perfection is totally unnecessary.  I enjoyed playing with play dough with one little boy.  He seemed to be afraid to touch the sticky stuff.  So I played with him.  I rolled out the dough, made a cute little bird nest, then took my fist and smashed to smithereens.  His eyes were the size of saucers.  Suddenly, this play dough thing wasn't so intimidating.  If he could smash it with his fist, and that was OK, this had possibilities.  I just wish I had learned these lessons when my children were still little.  I am learning.  I am learning that to thrive you get a little messy and usually a lot less than perfect.  In my opinion, perfectionism isn't on the path to thriving.   

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Certain flaws are necessary for the whole. It would seem strange if old friends lacked certain quirks.

From mulderfan:
"If you're not making mistakes, then you're not doing anything." ~John Wooden


mulderfan said...

Rather than "falling short" I sometimes didn't try. If I tried and fell short I couldn't stand to look at what I made.

Letting go of perfectionism has allowed me to try things I would have never dreamed of before.

Ruth said...

I know the look. I agree letting go of perfectionism frees up a lot of time and energy for better stuff.

Laurel Hawkes said...

There's also that nasty quote: If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over.

Like mulderfan, I have often stood frozen, afraid to move, afraid to make a mistake.

Those who demand perfection fail to recognize or even acknowledge that they do not have control of the consequences of their demands.

A healthier translation of perfect is complete, finished, whole. That leaves the door open for amazing possibilities.

Thanks for the reminder that good enough is good enough.

Ruth said...

Your welcome. Thanks for the added thoughts.

Raven of Truth said...

I've struggled with "perfection" all throughout my life. As a child, I developed OCD because of my stringent upbringing. Even as a very young child, everything in my room had to be in it's place and I washed my hands after I touched anything. All of those symptoms eventually gave way to the characteristic disturbing thoughts of OCD which often result from the stress of trying to be perfect.

It started as a defense mechanism in response to my harsh and unforgiving environment as a way to make myself feel safe. Now, I am trying to see that none of it really matters when you are around emotionally healthy people in an emotionally healthy environment. No one cares if I forget to push in my chair. Why have a perfectly straight house if you can't plop down on the couch and enjoy it without worrying about messing up the cushions?

It doesn't matter if I have a perfect home, vehicle, career, and/or appearance. My family of origin cared about all of that stuff and more because they believed that it reflected on their image. They saw me as an extension of themselves. I believed that I needed to impress them in order to be accepted - not only by them, but by anyone. They got me to start believing that their way was the only way.

No one who is in my life now needs perfection from me - they just want me as is. It feels good to be accepted for being myself. Thank you for this inspiring reminder that perfection isn't perfect!

<3 Raven

Ruth said...

I'm glad to hear you are in a place where OK is good. Enjoy.