"Let the gratefulness overflow into blessing all around you. Then, it will be a really good day." Louie Schwartzberg
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The Vulnerability of Perfectionism


posted by Susan Dominikovich on , , ,

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One of my readers pointed me in the direction of her blog which struck me at my core and it has led me onto a similar but different tangent.  So I write.

I worked out years ago that I am a perfectionist with a fear of failure.  And a fear of being judged.  And a fear of never fitting in and never being liked.  It goes on.

At university for example, I didn't really try to write the best essay I could, for fear that an A- after all that effort would destroy me.  So I did a fairly slap-happy job back then and was satisfied with my A-/B+ average.  Until I realised how ashamed I would be amongst my peers if I did not graduate with a Bachelor of Arts, English Literature, First Class Honours.  The Honours bit was a done deal.  First Class depended on my grade point average.  So I did work hard to make sure I achieved that.  There was no way on earth I would graduate without it.  My peers might judge me for being less than perfect.  I would be exposed as a fraud, that I was not equal to them.  That I was not one of them at all. I sought their approval and validation, through my GPA.

I distinctly remember being in that ceremony, surprised at the names in my class that did not achieve the First Class distinction.  I had assumed I would have been the only one.  And while I did not judge or think less of any of them, I wondered if they felt the shame I would have felt.  Thankfully however, it wasn't me.

I have an 11-year old son who also needs to do things perfectly, or he will not do them at all. I guess seeing this tendency in him has made me address it in myself.  Good modelling.  So when we're in the kitchen doing some baking together and he makes a hash of breaking the egg and little bits of shell go into the mix and egg spurts out over the bench...I hold my tongue.  I say, it's okay.  We can sort that out.  A little bit of shell in there, or a little bit of egg missing isn't going to matter one little bit.  While inside, something screams, BUT IT WON'T BE PERFECT WITHOUT THAT EXTRA BIT OF EGG THAT IS NOW GOING DOWN THE DRAIN!  As I said, I'm working on it.

Playing the piano publicly was a huge thing for me.  I hate to make mistakes.  I hate it even more when I make mistakes in front of others.  Even worse, I hate to make a mistake that will affect someone else and inhibit their worship or their ability to play.  They may never want to play with me again!  They won't like me anymore!  It really was a disaster waiting to happen.  

So I gave it to God.

And God showed me that quite frankly, perfection is rather boring and to be completely honest, intimidating to others.  And you're playing for Me anyway.  Don't you think I savour every sound you make because you love Me and are worshipping Me with everything in you?  Don't you know I think it's perfect before you even start?  Don't you know I think you're perfect even when you make mistakes?  And this need to be liked so much...why?  WHY?  WHY when you have Me and I have you and I am all you ever need?  And I have given you so much?  

I'm perfect in His eyes, even when I make mistakes because I have Jesus in me.

So I can play and I can sing in complete freedom with absolutely no need or desire to be perfect.  If you don't believe in miracles, come talk to me.  This is one.

It had never occurred to me however, that my need for perfection could in fact be a stumbling block in my relationships.  That the things I do well, might actually intimidate some others and in fact stir up their own competitive nature.  I had never considered that they might feel the need to outdo me because I do something so well.  You see, there is never any pride for me in doing things well.  Not an ounce.  It is not for pride's sake that I want to be perfect.

It is fear.  Fear of being judged.  Fear of being excluded.  Fear of being unwanted.

And then I started to consider all the things I do well and I realised something that quite frankly still makes me cry.  Actually, it breaks my heart.  The last few years we have opened our home and been generous to our friends and social circle.  We have had dinner parties and bigger parties as well as intimate gatherings, full of warmth, fun and good food.  I can say before you and God that my motivation was never to impress, only to bless.   I truly wanted to bring people together and bless them with a lovely time among friends.  And, if I'm honest, I wanted their approval.  Just like I wanted the approval of those scholars so many years ago.

But here's the thing.  I can throw a pretty good party.  A damn fine party.  I love to cook and I cook well.  I pay attention to all the finer details as well and people have no hope but to go away well fed and well entertained.  And I love the fact that I have blessed them.  There is no pride there.  Just satisfaction.  And a certain amount of need.  However, who's to say my guests know that?  How do I know that they don't leave my house and actually say, "wow, that was actually a bit TOO perfect don't you think?  I mean, nothing out of place...everything just so...how can we ever invite THEM to OUR house?"   I feel like putting up a sign on my door that says, "just because this evening is perfect, it does not mean that I judge you.  Just that I want to be liked by you."  Like I said, there is no pride.  

Even worse, I now realise the possibility of some going away thinking "who does she think she is, pulling off a party like that?  Wait till she sees what we can do?"  I am not saying anyone has gone away with these thoughts; it just never occurred to me that they could.

I'll admit, I'm still working through this one.  I know I don't have to do things perfectly and I truly believe I have been released from it (you should see my house...it's a tip...but if you knocked on the door I would happily invite you in and not feel any shame).  But I'm now in the reverse situation of being totally aware of how people might judge me for doing things well, rather than imperfectly, that I think it might be better not to do anything at all.  Plus I know, my relationship with God is paramount.  He made me and He loves me...does it matter so much if not everyone IN THE WORLD feels the same?  I do realise the pointlessness of my need for human approval. 

Still, a strange little paradox.  And no more dinner parties for awhile.


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