Nobody Loves Perfect
Nobody Loves Perfect Hello, my name is Beth and I am a Perfectionist! Some of you may recognize yourself in this essay, but may not be ready to come out of the closet. And you know which closet I’m talking about; that perfectly ordered closet, aligned by season, coordinated by color and organized by tops, pants, jackets, dress clothes and shoes. And let’s not even discuss the linen closet or your kitchen cabinets. More of the same, and you know it. It takes a whole lot of mental energy to sustain perfectionism. It’s exhausting.
I am a perfectionist and before I entered recovery, I spent years perfecting my perfectionism. This took an inordinate amount of energy. So why did I do it? I did it so I could hide my defects from everyone and appear that I am better than, and superior to family, friends, co-workers, colleagues and the world. Defects? What defects you might be thinking? But she’s perfect, what possible defects could she have?
Because I am in recovery and practicing honesty, I can share one big defect. Here it is. I go into freak out mode when folks do something I consider lame, dumb, or disorganized. First, I fall headlong into physical aggravation; my shoulders shrug, my chest tightens, and my knees freeze. I know you might not get the next few cultural references, but you’ll get the idea. The freak out goes from aggravation to an irritation so deep that it’s enough to make a sistah take off her earrings, put her hands on her hips, go into a head and neck roll and then into a full mental meltdown and scream, “OH NO! YOU BETTA’ DON’T!” But, of course, that’s all internal. Remember, I’m a perfectionist; gotta appear cool, calm, collected, and large and in charge to the world.
Now you may be asking yourself, what exactly is perfectionism? I asked myself the same thing when I realized that I was suffering from it. Is perfectionism a disease or a mental disorder? Turns out it is a multi-dimensional personality characteristic that has both positive and negative effects. Perfectionists strive for flawlessness and set excessively high performance standards. We tend to be overly critical of others and ourselves.
On the positive side, balanced perfectionists strive for achievement, are attentive to details, and persistent in reaching their goals. On the negative side, a Google search turned up some disturbing side effects for unbalanced perfectionism. Here’s a partial list. I was exhausted reading the entire list.
- Control issues
- Panic attacks
- Eating disorders (Whew, that’s one I never had to worry about)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (Uh oh—remember the closets?) Gibbs/Enlighten Up! 30
- Thoughts of suicide. Research says that perfectionists are more likely to kill themselves than regular, mediocre-performing people. (OMG!!!) Fortunately, I’m in recovery. I did tell you that, right? I like myself too much to deprive the world of whatever talents I have left to share).
- Workaholism (Hmmmm, sound familiar?)
- Low self-esteem (Sigh. Yeah, that’s a factor for sure)
- Chronic stress (Maybe that’s the source of the bald spots, skin rashes and constipation I’d been dealing with during my angry menopause transition.)
- Heart disease (Crap! That one runs in the family.)
- Substance abuse (I wonder if chocolate counts?)
If the American Medical Association ever declares perfectionism a disease, we would quickly see a drug developed for it and if we had one, it could be called: Perfectomayacin, “One pill a day and Perfectionism goes away.”
But the side effects of perfectomayacin need to be considered. There are side effects to all drugs. They come right along with the fix. Watch any TV drug commercial. They are filled with smiling bubbly, happy people running through grassy fields, walking hand in hand or playing with puppies. The commercial would first extol the benefits of Perfectomayacin and then follow up with the side effects, which might include the following:
- Do not take Perfectomayacin if you are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant. (I’m way past menopause, so no need to worry about that one!)
- Impotence (okay, another side effect that I can definitely rule out!)
- If you are taking Perfectomayacin, do not eat sweets or drink alcohol (What! Dessert is my favorite food group! And I do like a vodka tonic now and then).
- OR maybe it would be mood swings or behavior changes like, depression anxiety, or panic attacks. (Whoa, wait a minute! Didn’t we just see that depression, anxiety, or panic attacks are side effects of Perfectionism? Geez, you could get depressed just reading the list!)
- Drowsiness, dizziness, nasal irritation, insomnia, nausea and projectile vomiting (Boy, that would destroy my image at a meeting or social gathering but then maybe I wouldn’t care since thanks to Perfectomayacin, I’d no longer be a Perfectionist).
- Headache, trouble concentrating, memory problems (Memory problems; yeah, I’d really like to not have to remember any of this!)
Then as if that’s not enough, while still watching young smiling, bubbly, fit and happy people, running through fields hand in hand and playing with puppies we’d have to listen to language like this:
This is not a complete list of side effects and others may occur. Call your doctor for medical advice about any side effects you may experience. You may also report side effects to the Food and Drug Administration at 1-800-FDA-1088
The FDA? The FDA! Call Washington, D.C in this day and age with a personal problem? Are you f**king kidding me? A Perfectionist trying to deal with the D. C. government agencies would keep all the operators on the National Suicide Hotline busy 24/7!
Maybe my recovery process would have been faster if Perfectomayacin had been available, but the slower process of working to unearth the reasons I’d chosen Perfectionism as a coping mechanism seemed a better choice. I needed a deep dive into my five-layers of self-awareness in order to Enlighten Up!
First Aid for Perfectionism: Perceptiveness
The goal to work toward is Perceptiveness. Recognizing, understanding and getting clear on your issues is the first step. Remember; it’s a process.
With no quick fix in sight from the outside, I took a look inside and found that my perfectionist behaviors reflected ALL of the reasons why most people experience suffering according to Eastern philosophies. Please note that suffering is different than pain. Pain is a given, we will all experience it in one form or another. Suffering is a choice and we can work our way through that by understanding and transforming those pesky obstacles that keep us from realizing the benefits of self-awareness.
I took myself through the obstacles one-by one.
- Ignorance. Not seeing things as they are. I do not see things as they are if I think for one minute that I’m superior to others and I sometimes do! I’m in recovery; it’s a process.
- Ego. I see something lame, dumb or disorganized (my opinion), and I want to say, “I know what your problem is, I have time to tell you about it and can give you a complete list of all the things you need to do to fix yourself.”
- Attachment. I’ll dot every “i” and cross every “t” because it’s got to be perfect! But it’s never perfect (to my standards), and the emotional spiral of deflation, anger and guilt kicks in, followed by my grand defense mechanism, the blame game. It’s someone else’s fault (this one sucks wind big-time!)
- Avoidance/Unreasonable Dislikes. I don’t like other Perfectionists because they think they’re better than me. And, OMG, they just might be!
- Fear. If they really knew me, they’d know I’m a fake. Then they wouldn’t like me and that could intensify side effects like depression, anxiety, panic attacks and projectile vomiting (sigh).
Once I recognized how these factors worked in my life, I was able to get some clarity, and started to address them one by one, and over time, discovered that the energetic intensity of my perfectionism decreased. And yes, there were some side effects, but they were all good! I learned to enlighten up and I now lead a much more balanced, and hopefully wise, life about 80% of the time. Nobody and nothing is perfect, and now I can admit that.
As the work on myself progressed, a shift happened. Here is where I stand today with those five factors.
- Ignorance. Not seeing things as they are: my ignorance reduced from 100% to about 60 – 70%, and I see more clearly that I’m not superior to everyone else (only to a few members of my family; a couple of friends, and colleagues; remember, I’m in recovery, it’s a process).
- Ego. With practice, I reduced the incidents of my mental aggravating, irritating mental meltdowns and I don’t give advice unless I’m asked for it (most of the time).
- Attachment. I realized that in reality, all outcomes of any of my actions will be either what I expected, more than I expected, less than I expected, or unexpected. I now realize that I can influence outcomes but I do not control them (still getting used to that one!).
- Avoidance/Unreasonable Dislikes. Everyone has a part to play so I’m okay and you’re okay (except for a few members of my family; a couple of friends and colleagues…remember, I’m in recovery, it’s a process. Also, I still don’t know if this is unreasonable but I really, really really dislike eggplant, cilantro and okra!)
- Fear. A thank you to Al Franken and the movie he made while working as a comedian. It’s “Stuart Saves His Family.” Regarding fear, Stuart says, “Face it, trace it and erase it.” And because I don’t want to forget how far I’ve come, I would say, “Face it, trace it, and replace it.” Stuart says, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and, doggone it, people like me!” and I would add that I’m perfectly okay if they don’t. All right, all right, I’m not perfectly okay if they don’t, but remember I’m in recovery… it’s a process.
And as part of my recovery process, I wrote a poem about the fruitlessness of Perfectionism and I'm happy to share it here:
Seeking love, she took her cue
From the folks on Madison Avenue
Sad way to go
She doesn’t know
That nobody loves perfect.
Her clothes a top designer line
Laurent, Givenchy, Blass and Kline
They fit just so
She doesn’t know
That nobody loves perfect
She holds so much of life inside
And watches, waits and hopes to find
The peace, the joy, the happiness
Of love – the perfect kind
Every lacquered hair in place
A plastic smile upon her face
Make up just so
She doesn’t know
That nobody loves perfect
Whatever issue or situation you are facing, take time to take walk yourself through the five obstacles, one-by-one to get clear. And remember, It’s a process.
Here is the MP3 of the short version of ’Nobody Loves Perfect’ that I did at The Mouth-Off, a local storytelling event at the Mark Twain House and Museum. We had a ten-minute time limit and could not use notes! Whew!
"Thank you SO MUCH for bringing your wonderful story to the Mark Twain House on Friday! You had the audience wrapped around your finger. :)" -Chion Wolf