Wednesday, April 19, 2006

In Case You Haven't Noticed

Just in case you haven't noticed by now, I'm a perfectionist. I don't want to be a perfectionist. I know it's not healthy, not wise, and not realistic, but I just can't help myself. I've been seeing a therapist since January to help me work through these issues. Isn't that kind of ironic. A perfectionist seeking help so that she can perfectly master the art of imperfection? I have tremendous grace when it comes to others. I can overlook and forgive a multitude of sins. I can easily encourage others to accept their shadow, their wounds, their humanness. But, I can't seem to do the same for myself. I expect nothing less than perfection from myself and somehow I got the crazy idea that it just might be possible, and so I keep trying and trying and trying.

After my recent weekend from hell I've thought a lot about my perfectionism. With motherhood there are so many ways to fail within the first couple hours of waking and so my perfectionist tendencies, and the cruelty I heap on myself when I don't meet my own idealistic standards, has been kicked into overdrive. I have demanded more from myself in the past few years than any one human being could ever live up to. Not too long ago I wrote a post about running from my mother's shadow. I have thought a little more about that concept. If I stopped running from the mistakes she made what would that mean? If I am no longer repeating the mistakes she made then I am free to create my own life, free to own my life and write my own story, and free to make my own mistakes. That final thought sends me into a tailspin, circling in a vortex of fear and anxiety. You see, the simple truth is I DON'T WANT TO MAKE ANY MISTAKES, EVER! Now before you remind me that that is impossible and that I don't have to be perfect, I just have to be real, let me just say I know that. I know all of it. But knowing and accepting are two very different things. Despite the knowing I still want to be perfect. I don't want to make mistakes, especially not when it comes to the people I love the most. If my mistakes could be contained in a bottle and therefore only impact my life that would be one thing, but the fact that my mistakes wound Britton and hurt Trey is just not something I've been willing to accept. I don't want my humanness to hurt others. Yes, I realize I worry too much about hurting other people, about protecting them, especially from me. It's a crazy neurotic thing I do. I worry so much about hurting others that I often sacrifice my truth, my voice, and my power for the sake of others. But this desire is starting to backfire because lately all the holding back is spilling right on over...and it's not pretty, not pretty at all. Just ask the people I live with. The hidden anger, the muffled cries, the unmet needs, the denied passions are showing up when I least expected it. And I have very little control over it (something else perfectionists hate--the lack of control.)

So where does that leave me? In a pretty big mess. As much as I long to live a mistake-free life that's not happening anytime soon. And yet every time the mistakes occur--the raised voice, the explosions of frustration, the spewing of anger all over Trey--I fall a little deeper into my pit of self-hatred. I know being gentle with myself and forgiving myself is something I need to do. Yet lately my drive for perfectionism is just getting in the way of being able to do those things for myself. And quite honestly I'm getting pretty tired of myself--tired of my bitchiness, tired of my volatile emotions, tired of my explosive behavior, tired of my crying, tired, tired, tired.

I continue to return to the imagery of breaking into a million pieces, shattering all over the place, tiny shards of glass everywhere. That's exactly what I'm wanting. I'm wanting to break free. I'm wanting to fall apart. I'm wanting to be loosed. I'm wanting to rebuild, to start all over again, to stop holding on to everything so tightly. I'm wanting to crack wide open and in so doing find the courage to live with the imperfections. I'm wanting to live as a beloved porcelain pitcher, broken and pieced back together, still usable and valuable, still spilling it's goodness onto life, always aware of the cracks and chips, but able to see the beauty of the brokenness. So how do you get to the place where you can finally risk being real and human? How do you finally decide to believe that you, imperfections and all, are enough? How do you let go of the fear that your faults and failures will hurt others? How do you trust? I don't know yet. I just know I'm tired and I'm ready to fall apart.


Anonymous Adrift At Sea said...

The only problem with being a perfectionist and not wanting to ever make any mistakes is that you will constantly be punishing yourself for being human. We learn from our mistakes, and those of our teachers.. if we never make any mistakes, we are doomed to not learning... From what I've seen, you're doing a pretty good job of being a mommy... and the Easter party photos are wonderful. Keep it up. Britton will forgive you the few mistakes you make...the love you have for him is obvious... especially in the mommasaysom posts...

Trusting means you're vulnerable. The only people that can really hurt you are the ones you care about... if you didn't care about them...what they say and do doesn't really matter all that much. It is better to trust, and occassionally get hurt, than not to trust and have to hide all the time.

7:59 PM  
Blogger *aimee* said...

I have never been able to put to words, the path that I travel down-the path of desire and the path of perfection. I hate being pushed off the path and I hate not knowing where it leads. You have placed into words, what so many feel; a desire to keep it together and a desire to securly and perfectly fall apart. I pray that peace and rest find you.

8:10 PM  
Blogger Deb R said...

I wish I knew something wise and helpful to say, but I don't. You already know in your head that your goal of perfection isn't possible. It's certainly not anything you would expect from anyone else you love, so why expect it from yourself? But as far as how to get that from head-knowledge to heart acceptance, well...I'm not sure how one does that other than time and trying - TRYING to believe it's ok to be imperfect until it finally IS true, deep inside.

Also, I'm going to throw out a thought - (feel free to ignore it if it's stupid!) - but have you had your hormone levels checked lately? Some things about what you describe feeling remind me of some things I was going through when mine were waaaay out of whack and changing some meds made a lot of difference. Just a thought.

8:54 PM  
Blogger liz elayne said...

so many things come to mind as i read your words...
i wish that i could say, come over tomorrow. come over for tea and i will just listen as you spill all that you need to say. just listen.
i wish for you that you would sit in the quiet, and just be. letting go of being all for everyone else. and just being you, for yourself.
i hope that you keep coming here and sharing your truth...all the the bits of it. we are here for you...

11:02 PM  
Blogger Laini Taylor said...

I really struggle with perfectionism too, not in matters of life and home and such, but in work. I have such dread of things not coming out just right, it freezes me! But it is really possible to work on this!

11:23 PM  
Blogger Tongue in Cheek Antiques said...

Michelle your last line is it a red flag? Take some time for yourself.
Love yourself and the rest will follow.

11:47 PM  
Blogger Lee said...

Leave perfection to God. Go for 'good enough'.

Someone once said that all artworks are unfinished. Therefore, imperfect.

2:12 AM  
Anonymous beansprout said...

I also have the addiction to perfection. It is an ass-kicking addiction to have because like you said we will "try, try, try" until we are exhausted or fall apart. Lately, I've been thinking that my own need for perfection is all centered in the domain of power. And thinking that those around us will not be able to handle our imperfections is a sign of arrogance in some way. Do I really think I am so powerful that another can't meet me unless I'm perfect? It sounds crazy. And I know that my thinking like this has done a lot of damage to myself and others. I could go on...this is a HUGE issue for me. Thanks for letting me see it from your perspective. True change comes when you realize that this isn't what you truly want.

2:24 AM  
Blogger megg said...

keep on letting go - bit by bit - but be gentle if it doesn't happen easily. I think you are going through a pretty serious metamorphosis right now. It won't be easy or comfortable but imagine how you will feel once you have come through the other side. In the meantime - keep on sharing every part of you. I agree to what you asked me in my comments. I will make that vow to you right now if you will do the same. "All of us" no matter what. xo

4:11 AM  
Blogger tara dawn said...

I admire you for your honesty and for WANTING to move beyond the need for perfectionism. Being aware of this aspect of yourself and taking steps to TRYt o move beyond it is huge! Give yourself credit for that.
And one other things that has personally helped me...I've typically been very hard on myself when it comes to my mistakes hurting others. It was then pointed out to me a couple years ago, after my decisions and behavior had brutally hurt another (emotionally) that my mistakes were a learning and growing process of us all. Not just for mistakes helped even those whom they might have hurt the most! I must tell you that was a huge relief for me to realize that my mistakes had the potential to HELP others, rather than strictly just hurting others. Remember this...I feel quite sure that some of your "mistakes" are indeed helping those you fear are hurting the most.
Hold on to any thread of courage you can are so strong, and this strength will carry you through.
Sending lots of love and big hugs!

4:50 AM  
Blogger gkgirl said...


i wish you did not live so
far away...
cause if you didn't,
i'd walk over to your house right now
(i'd have to walk,
i don't have a driver's licence)
and on the way,
i'd stop and pick up some diet coke
to share
and maybe i'd see some wildflowers
and i'd stop and pick you
some of those too
to let you know
that you are like the diet coke,
but also strong.
and you are like the wildflowers,
beautiful and unexpected and hardy.


6:13 AM  
Anonymous krista said...

Holy cow Woman. You asked "So how do you get to the place where you can finally risk being real and human"

I think after reading this post you should be teaching a course on it!

You are putting these raw emotions out into the world and being real. That takes so much courage.

Give yourself credit where credit is due. Your honesty here is refreshing, beautiful and amazing. You insights into yourself are complex and wonderful.

You are already finding your way.

6:30 AM  
Blogger snowsparkle said...

perfection is an illusion that only exists in our own mind. ten people can do the same thing ten different ways and they can each firmly believe that thiers was the "perfect way", but guess what.... yeah... no such thing! it's just something that feeds our need to be "right" and "good". i say this as a former perfectionist. my aging body was the best teacher for me to finally grasp the concept of perfection being an illusion. i think you'll get there faster than i was able to. cheers and thanks for this well written piece.

6:33 AM  
Blogger christina said...

Have you read BROKEN FOR YOU? It's such a great book and it's about just this--allowing oneself to shatter into a million little pieces and creating something new and whole from the mess. Failing isn't really the worst thing though--it really isn't. I'm always amazed by the fact that it's my failures, my times of extreme grief and loss and depression that bring about growth. We grow when we are stretched a bit, torn. You know?

6:49 AM  
Blogger Ally Bean said...

I, too, suffered from perfectionism. Especially as a teenager.

One thought that helped me overcome it is that when God created the world, it was good. Not better or best, but good.

I remind myself of this every day. And try to love the pieces of me that result from not hanging on so tightly.

7:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

*holding you close*

Oh--- I hear you-- this is a big battle-- big. things that have worked for me:

looking at my mom who was a perfectionist and seeing how unhappy she was -- learning that choosing a perfectionist path doesn't lead to greater happiness, it leads to more despair

reading about inventors and creators who CELEBRATE their mistakes because without the mistake they would never have found their idea, image what-have you

understanding that it is only through mistakes we learn. the only way-- so it's not hating mistakes-- it's deciding how we are going to experience/process the mistake

best book I ever read on this that broke open the world for me was by Susan Thesenga "The Undefended Self"-- the beginning's a bit "out there" but if you can get into it--it is so fabulous and lead me to "The pathwork for self-transformation" by Eva Pierakos which also transformed my life in the biggest most healthy most happy way

both books talk about The Mask-- i.e. the perfect face we hold up to the world, and the more you try to hold up this false "perfect" mask, the more pain you are in--

anyway-- whew-- so so sorry for leaving such a big comment--

you are so wonderful wishing you peace of heart--


7:28 AM  
Anonymous Linda said...

I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me. During my most trying times or when I feel most heavily burdened, this is what I believe, and what I will be believing for you.

7:38 AM  
Anonymous Jennifer (she said) said...

"I continue to return to the imagery of breaking into a million pieces, shattering all over the place, tiny shards of glass everywhere. That's exactly what I'm wanting. I'm wanting to break free. I'm wanting to fall apart. I'm wanting to be loosed"

I have written about this every single day for the last week. It is a theme that surfaces again and again and quite frankly, I'm a terrified of what will happen if i continue to feel this way. I say this for two reasons - 1) if I were to loosen, who would I be? I know how to do this tightly wound worrying about everyone being hard on myself stuff - but letting that go? I don't know how to do that at all- and i like, very much, to feel in control of my life, even when that comes with a price. 2) I have a feeling i would be happy and that the possibility i feel inside of myself would be enormous and beautiful. Perhaps I don't feel I have time for that kind of living. As much as I hate to admit this, I think it's real.

Which brings me to you - being really real - and i'm certain, calling up that real piece in all of us here.

what i am doing is, i'm seeing a counselor. i am also a perfectionist, and it's killing me. there is much work to do inside of my head - in the way i view myself and the world and my shoulds - and frankly, i need help. and on those days when i don't have my counselor on hand - i write on my blog, and i visit yours, and i remember that i'm not alone in my fear or frsutration or even hopefulness, for that matter.

thank you thank thank you for being real - not just with us, but with yourself.

7:59 AM  
Blogger Living Part Deux said...

So MANY of us have struggled with pursuing the falacy of perfection. It creates the most implacable, cruel relationship with ourselves and with everyone else in our lives. For years, my family suffered while I was immersed in corporate life - and the real reason they suffered was not because of my long hours or external pressures - it was because my desire to reach absolute perfection in what I produced made me impossible to live with. I am a recoverng perfectionist. I am SO much happier, and people who love me are SO MUCH HAPPIER. The event that really sent me into recovery was when I found a tiny (I mean miniscule) error in a huge project I had just published and distributed. I went to the Vice President I was working for and pointed to it in total shame (she had already praised the book and my efforts). She paused for a moment, then looked squarely at me and said, "Do you think you are God?"

9:27 AM  
Blogger M said...

Wow, what truly brilliant words. Thank you so much for sharing all of you, even when you are feeling like this. I've been going through the same stuff, as you know, and am also a practising perfectionist. I think loving ourselves, exactly as we are, is the path to change, the path to acceptance and letting go. I know poersonally, fighting so hard to be something else, something "better", is what exhausts me. I want to just be, just love myself, just accept and go with the flow. You are doing it, too- getting help, writing it out on here, and we're here to help you put the pieces back to together. I envision a shattering of your present self to reveal the person you want to be. It may take time, it may hurt, but it will be well worth it. I think you are an amazing woman, mother, wife, writer, artist, inspiration, and I don't even know you! Hang in, this too shall pass. We'll get through it together.

9:34 AM  
Anonymous samantha said...

Amazing - look at all these lovely, amazing people encouraging you, understanding you, sharing their wisdom and their journey. I believe you will find your way, you're on the path. Also, this post really explains why you were so hard on yourself about Britton a couple of weeks ago.

You are enough. You are good. And you are beautifully, flawlessly human. One of my favorite praise songs says "I am human, I am spirit. I am bound, though I am free - bound by earth, though I'm not of it - carry me."

11:10 AM  
Anonymous chelle said...

I can so relate to this post. I am a perfectionist totally!! Being a Mom has totally forced me to let it go (a little
) my husband has to constantly reassure me that I am a good mom!! Know that you are not alone and you can give yourself a break!

1:19 PM  
Blogger artjunk~ said...

yes, yes, I know this well. the great thing is you are aware. the good news it is very possible to teach yourself to let go. I've had periods of thriving when I've used some simple techniques. the not so good thing is that it can always creep up on you again since it's so engrained. I've struggled with this, but you can get on track again. I really think perfectionism is a sort of addiction, you can overcome, but you always have to watch for it rearing it's ugly head....I wish you all the best.

1:42 PM  
Anonymous Toryssa said...

I don't know what I can add, but I'm sorry. I wish that you could view yourself as other's do.

2:48 PM  
Blogger holli said...

I know just how you feel, and it's exhausting. I'm so sorry - because there isn't a damned thing anyone can say or do to make you feel better. However, you'll get there. The benevolent Baylor sent me a book "Notes to Myself: My struggle to become a person" by Hugh Prather. She's like a little angel and must have known I needed it - because it has a lot of little quotes that really fit this topic and it's helped me quite a bit.

You just have to let go.

3:31 PM  
Blogger Kim G. said...

We often hold ourselves to such higher standards than we would hold others. Why are we hardest on ourselves?

I'll offer a quote that encouraged me this year, "When our spiritual eyes begin to work, we become aware of grace all through our days. Our lives become filled with genuine gratitude instead of with ceaseless discontentment. 'The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want' - I lack nothing the psalmist says." You are enough as you are.

I'm hoping that you will be encouraged and lifted up this week and know that the reflection and energy that you spend on figuring out why the perfection issue is a tough one for you will bring you bring you peace and contentment in the days to come.

4:00 PM  
Blogger Lady Lux said...

you know...I have the same feelings right now... seem perplexed...not knowing what to do in the middle of a lot of things that need to be done...
I want to do things perfectly as well...

oftentimes...viewing myself as never measuring up...

somehow it's a comfort to know...that I'm not alone..

4:33 PM  
Blogger telfair said...

You know, I really think it's a gradual process. I don't think there's one magical day where you let go of the fear...I think it happens so gradually over time that you might not notice that the tide is turning, but when you compare it to, say, a year ago, you can definitely see the strides.
I used to be the same way, but therapy really helped me. I think if you can see and admit what needs to be altered a bit, then you're already halfway there. Don't get frustrated -- walls will fall down, but it doesn't happen overnight.
You're doing a great job working on it, and I wish you all the best! You are not alone.

5:56 PM  
Blogger Alexandra S said...

Hi there Michelle! You know what works for me? Really truly realizing that everyone is responsible for their own feelings, and that its important to develop a tolerance for other people being upset or disappointed with me at times, and that just being A-OK. It doesn't mean by any stretch that I make efforts to hurt others, but just an acceptance that its inevitably going to happen, esp in families, where you share so very much physially and emotionally. I think what helps me too to let go of the fear that my faults and failures will hurt others are knowing others are far stronger than I give them credit for. If someone is committed to their own personal growth and you are too relationships can survive a lot. I really believe that, that there has to be a lot of room consciously left for the messy and confusing. While your son is a child, I think one of the greatest gifts you can give is sharing with him not only when you feel your strongest but also just how to be with yourself when you are feeling just the opposite, showing him what it means to be your own best friend as kindly and compassionately as you can muster. I'm routing for you. I KNOW you are going to get through this.

6:40 PM  
Blogger dani said...

i'd written you a huge long post on the day you posted this and couldn't post it - so here i try again.

basically what i'd said was that i think you have so much insight and power and are so far down the "right path" - more so than so many otehrs - but you cannot actually recognise this. please please trust in yourself and acknowledge where you are, how far you've come.

it was said so muh better and this hasn't got the essence right but i hope you know and feel what i mean.

x big hug

1:05 AM  
Anonymous Adrift At Sea said...

One other thing I'd like to point out about Perfection... getting it good enough often only takes 20-50% of the time that perfection takes. In most cases, the difference between perfection and good enough isn't really all that noticeable, or at all necessary. There are times where perfection is a good idea... but in a majority of the cases, it isn't worth the extra effort and aggravation. If you can stop concentrating your energies on getting things perfect, and concentrate them on what is truly important...then your life will be much the richer for it. I'd also like to point you to this blog entry.

10:28 PM  

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