Patrizio Di Massimo, Mum 2014, Kunsthalle Lissabon, Lisbon. Image: patriziodimassimo.com.
“Hi, I’m Carolien and I used to be a perfectionist. I haven’t given into perfectionist behavior over the last two weeks.” If there was a group Perfectionists Anonymous, this is how I would have introduced myself.
As research professor Brene Brown has pointed out distinctly in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, perfectionism is an addiction. It’s a drug that people use in order not to have to feel shame or rejection. As a recovering perfectionist, I can totally relate.
I’m giving you the inside scope here. Of course, there are parts in me that would rather not to: “Are you insane? What will people think?!?.” But I also know that these parts aren’t my best advisors. So here we go.
Let me share with you what my inside world sounded like, when the perfectionist part had a lot of free airtime: “We make sure that you won’t get hurt, that you won’t have to feel shame. Nothing will leave this terrain until we have agreed that it is good enough. And our standards are notorious, you know about that.”
Very high standards in an attempt to protect me from shame. From the point of view of the perfectionist part, this was totally understandable. This part was convinced that life is very dangerous and it saw plenty of occurrences where I could fall flat on my face or make a total fool of myself. Which would cause me to feel deeply ashamed.
And that, feeling deeply ashamed and the pain that comes with it, was something that needed to be avoided at all costs.
So, how did this go, living with a perfectionist mentality? Did it work well? Not so much. For example, I wouldn’t publish a single sentence on my English website before my friend and English native speaker Theresa (bless her) had gone over it. Not very effective.
The only way I could make the interview series on CarolienTV, was by working with a professional film maker. It took me quite some months to realize that my own phone on a tripod could also do a good enough job.
Being a perfectionist was also painful. Physically painful as there were these two lower parts in my ribcage that held everything tightly together and firmly under control. My system beared it.
Regimes don’t change by themselves. None of them do. From the perfectionist point of view, there was no reason to, as everything was under control and pretty comfortable. My body had put up with the pain for decades, so nothing to worry, it would survive some extra stings in my chest too.
Slowly but surely though, the parts in me that wanted to change the status quo, became stronger. I started to feel a sense of ‘enough is enough’. Besides the physical discomfort, I could see how much the perfectionist part stopped me from realizing my life work, so afraid that it was to make mistakes. It was time to start playing a bigger game, bravely moving forward.
Giving our presence to what hurts, allows for the healing to begin. So I sat down with the perfectionist part and gave it my loving attention. I made room for it and acknowledged the important job it felt it needed to fulfill. Meanwhile -and this is important- I didn’t consent to it. Step by step, the perfectionst part loosened its grip.
Here’s my new motto: “No, it won’t be perfect. And yes, that is ok”.
Are you recognizing anything of what I’ve just shared? Any perfectionist traits in there? I would love to hear from you. Please leave your thoughts in the comment’s section below. You will always get a reply.