Surviving Perfectionism: “Baby, I Was Born This Way.”

Perfectionism is a hard burden to bear. It can be both a symptom or attempt to manage depression, anxiety or PTSD. Whether you regularly find yourself desperately sleepless as your mind reels with things you “must” get done… or you simply believe it is the “right” to show up as your best self every day, there are lessons for you here.

A mindset of perfectionism can easily sneak into your attitude, change your actions and transform your relationships (to Self and others). Laying the groundwork of life-changing principles can slow perfectionism’s roll and give you an opportunity to redirect. Starting with your attitude towards being imperfect (or even less-than-good) is the starting line for making progress. There is no quick fix for behavior change because everything starts in the head and the heart – that’s attitude.

Lesson #1: Imperfection is not a flaw, it’s your nature.

Let’s begin with one important fact and borrow a line from Lady Gaga: Baby, you were born imperfect. Your perfectionism on the other hand, that is something you made up along the way. I often hear: “I’ve always been this way,” “I’ve always been a perfectionist,” “I can’t help myself, it’s in my nature.” Nope, not true. None of it.

Now, I’m not trying to start an argument with you via blog post. And I firmly believe you know yourself best. But here me out. When you were born, you were born imperfect. No judgment. No shame. Just a simple fact. Before you could even walk, talk or hold a sippy cup you often missed the mark, achieved next to nothing, inconvenienced those around you and lacked serious skills. These didn’t make you bad or wrong, they simply were.

Along the way, you picked up that certain behaviors elicited reward or punishment. Not literally, but your brain picked up on what was or wasn’t said. If you did something silly and your mom smiled and laughed you likely learned to do more of this. But if you did something silly and every acted like you were a stupid inconvenience you likely learned to tone it down. At it’s best, this is social conditioning. At it’s worst, this turns into codependency and yup, you guess it, perfectionism.

For better or worse, we learn what it means to be “good” or “bad.” For those of us who tend towards perfectionism this was fuel for the fire. We took these lessons and ran with them. But the reality was and still is that you are inherently valuable, silly or not. You are perfectly imperfect. Your imperfection is just a fact and it does not make you bad, unloveable or incapable.

I’m asking you to make a flying leap here. I’m asking you to consider that
being imperfect isn’t a right-wrong thing, a good-bad thing.
It’s just a state of being.

Imperfections In Real Life: My Kiddos and I

To make a point, I have two children of my own. I love them with my whole heart. I would run into a house on fire for them. And they are perfectly imperfect. As an example, in just the past 24 hours:

  • My youngest one peed on the floor in front of company, required me to change my plans multiple times AND was unable to control her emotions when we left grandma’s house.
  • My oldest one splashed half a tub full of bathwater onto the bathroom floor, had a bloody nose (again) at 4 in the morning requiring me to wake up from a sound sleep AND made me late because he had to use the bathroom yet again before getting in the car.

Now keep in mind, I’m not criticizing my children! I am blessed and privileged to be a parent. And, anyone who has spent even a small amount of time around young children can likely guess that these are pretty typical challenges. My children are not bad or wrong for doing these things. My children are growing, learning and changing day by day. They need multiple attempts to build skills, learn to manage their emotions and gradually grow into themselves. They are deserving of my love in the process and I willingly give my love to them.

“We can choose to be perfect and admired or to be real and loved.”
– Glennon Doyle Melton
All those things I just said about my kiddos? Let’s do a therapeutic reframe and pass it back to you. Ready?

YOU are not bad or wrong. YOU are growing, learning and changing day by day. YOU need multiple attempts to find success and health. YOU, just like my kids, are perfectly imperfect and worthy of love from YOURSELF and others.

I am perfectly imperfect just like you. It’s the one thing I get right again and again! To be fair, in my lifetime, here are a few things I couldn’t do perfectly simply because I’m a human:

  • I over involved myself in college to the point of pushing my family away
  • I was in a codependent relationship for over 5 years because it made me feel useful and loved.
  • I had trouble getting pregnant with my second child and was nearly crippled in pain during the third trimester despite doing everything “right.”
  • I’ve been financially scammed and lost tons of money.
  • I’m cranky and resentful of my husband on a regular basis.
  • My body is curvier than clothes manufacturers believe it should be.
  • I’m more ambitious than is comfortable for many in my closest circle.
  • I’ve dreamed of more marathons than I’ve actually completed.
  • I yell at my kids and lack patience.
  • I once burned a pizza so badly I threw away the entire cookie sheet it had cemented itself onto.

Not good enough for you? I can also be jealous… curse like a sailor… and go to bed with my makeup on. Gasp! Perhaps you’re thinking, “Yeah, but my imperfections are way worse.” Let me tell you this…

Don’t let how awful you think you are be the thing that makes you special.
Don’t let your imagined awfulness stop you from connecting to
your dreams and your relationships.
Perfectionism On Your Relationship To Self And Others
There is this phrase in the mental health community that speaks to this. They call it being, “unique in our wretchedness.” Being unique in your wretchedness can sound like thoughts that no one is as bad as you are or is struggling as much as you are. It can feel like wanting to hide because no one else could understand or believe what you are going through. It can look like hiding, secret keeping and shutting down from embarrassment, guilt or shame. That embarrassment, guilt or shame dismantles your relationships faster than a wrecking ball.

Your imperfections, your wretchedness… this is not what makes you unique. It’s what makes you human. You do your imperfections with your own style, just like I do mine with my own style. Maybe your imperfection isn’t that you were financially scammed like me. Maybe it’s that you grew up in poverty (or extreme wealth) and you fear your friends will judge you. Again, none of this is right or wrong, good or bad. They are just facts, facts that we use to make up that there is something bad or wrong with us.

Healing From Perfectionism
So today I’m suggesting that the first step to getting rid of the perfectionism habit is to stop shaming and guilting yourself for struggling with it in the first place. And, spoiler alert, your recovery from perfectionism will be imperfect too! Today you stop shaming yourself for being imperfect in the first place.

So here is your take away. You were born imperfect – not knowing it all or in control of it all. And this will continue for the rest of the days of your life. Being imperfect is the one state of being you will master in this lifetime.

The goal was never to move from imperfect to perfect.
It was to move from imperfect to more deeply human, connected and
fully accountable and responsible for when we mess up.
Know that along the way you are in good company. Won’t you share with me your struggle with imperfection and perfectionism? What have you learned about yourself to loosen the grip of self judgment? I’m building a world where we stop passing on the shame and give up the secrets that make us sick. I hope you’ll join me. Leave a comment below!

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