“It is easier to be better than you are than to be who you are. The point here is that perfection belongs to the gods; completeness or wholeness is the most a human being can hope for.” Marion Woodman
Are you a perfectionist? Does that work well for you? Does it create problems with other people or your family? Do you see an advantage to letting go of it?
Why do we try to be perfect? Perhaps because somewhere in our lives we received the message that it was not acceptable to be anything less. In my case, I thought if I could do everything correctly that my parents wouldn’t scream so much, but of course they screamed at each other more than at me. Despite that, I felt I should be able to make my mother, especially, more happy.
High Expectations in Childhood Create Fear of Failure
The other part of it that came from my childhood was that my parents said I was special and intelligent; therefore, I should always make straight A’s in school and do things well. I shouldn’t waste my intelligence or talents but always do my best.
This made more of an impression on me than it might have because I was weak from illnesses and was a disaster playing any physical game at school—even simply throwing a ball. I needed to make up for that somehow and I did do very well in academics and reasonably well in music, especially singing.
We Want to Be Perfect Because We Want To Be Loved
Sadly, when we follow the perfectionist path in life, we are destined to fail often. We set our standards so high they are virtually impossible to attain and so we often feel inadequate. This disappointment is inevitable because as Marion Woodman points out “perfection belongs to the gods.”
Often the need for perfection is focused on external creations rather than going within to find ways to grow and evolve. We need to look perfect, do our jobs perfectly, find the perfect mate, say the perfect thing, and paint the perfect picture. We crave the love and attention that we believe will result from this, and we often do not see the connection between our trying to be perfect and our failure in relationships and other areas of our lives.
Becoming Whole Is More Important Than Being Perfect
This pursuit often takes us away from what is most important—becoming whole and complete as our true selves because this journey requires us to take chances. If we take a chance, we may fail—it’s very risky and it conjures up an enormous amount of fear. We have to go within and there are no clear guidelines for succeeding. We have to rely on our very unconcrete intuition.
Pursuing perfection in many areas of our lives will often lead us to moments when we are confronted with how unhealthy or stressful our pursuit really is. These times are opportunities that offer us the possibility of change, moments when we can see there is a connection between what is not going well in a relationship or with our health and the demands we make on ourselves.
Health Challenges May Teach Us Lessons
In the late 90s I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. My adrenals were depleted, my cortisol levels were off the chart, and I was vitamin and enzyme deficient. I lived in New Orleans, down river from chemical plants and in a climate where mold thrived. Most doctors didn’t acknowledge the existence of the syndrome at that time, but I found a doctor in Tucson who specialized in treating this naturally and whose plan had been helpful to a friend of mine.
I spent several days at the Tucson clinic with many different practitioners. The phrase they kept repeating to me was “you’re being too hard on yourself.” When the therapist there told me I needed to be kinder to myself, I insisted, “I don’t feel like I’m so hard on myself—I just want to do things well. Why is that a bad thing?”
“It’s a matter of degree,” he said and recommended I read The Spirituality of Imperfection. I felt so overwhelmed that I broke down in tears. He continued, “Remember, there’s always light in the darkness, and even if it’s a small glimmer, pay attention to it.” (Awakening to the Dance: A Journey to Wholeness, p. 186)
Releasing Our Perfectionism Frees Us
By the time I left the clinic, I was able to see some of the ways that perfectionism was harming me. I was dedicated to healing naturally, and that was a major challenge because I had to change my diet, take many supplements at different times, and be in bed at 9:00 pm every night. In addition, I had to continue teaching so I could afford the treatment.
This journey of healing took me inside the deepest part of myself and I had to let go of so many things I had thought were absolutely necessary and fed my perfectionism. At first I felt deprived by having to eat only healthy, organic food, but with time it became a satisfying habit. I became adept at reading food labels to avoid preservatives, sugar, and all chemicals.
I revived my meditation practice and read spiritual and inspirational books. I became used to not going out at night and had long conversations with two friends who also had chronic fatigue. I began recording my dreams which often revealed significant messages. Within two years, I was significantly better and within four years I was completely healed. Unfortunately, others I knew healed much more slowly. I was blessed.
Releasing Perfectionism Is An Internal Journey
Throughout this process, I learned to accept my imperfections and to love myself despite them. Most significantly, I learned to ask others for help when I needed it and not feel I was a failure because I couldn’t completely take care of myself. Although the process of healing often frustrated me, I learned I had no alternative but to release those feelings. Hanging on to anger and frustration only made me feel worse.
If we are wise, we will recognize there is a difference between pursing perfectionism and simply doing something well. One often distresses us and those around us while the other brings delight to all. By developing those aspects of ourselves that complete us and make us whole, we are honoring our most sacred selves, and we learn to love ourselves. After all, wanting to be loved is often why we pursue perfectionism. By nurturing our spiritual cores we are developing our wholeness and that is an inspiring journey.
What has been the most important part of your journey to become whole? Please share a comment.
© 2015 Georganne Spruce
Related Articles: Loving Yourself: Getting Beyond Approval and Perfectionism (video)
Thank you for writing this article. Perfectionism and control have been my coping mechanisms for the last 18 years. I never realized how much it affected my life until my awareness around it expanded. I now see how it affects my relationships, the way I define love, the way I define life. I am now faced with the idea of letting it all go and jumping into the unknown. It is a beautiful and scary feeling, but I am grateful to have found your article. Thank you!
Thanks for your comment. Best wishes on your new approach to life. I admire your courage.
Thank you for sharing your story, Georganne, and the wise words. I continue to have to notice a perfectionist tendency in myself, but I have improved somewhat through the years in accepting myself as I am. One thing that’s helped me is to be mindful of when I am comparing myself to others. I try instead to focus on what makes me unique and to appreciate the things I do well. I still find myself striving toward impossible standards sometimes, however. This truly is a journey for me!
I think it’s so important when we can be aware of what we are doing, as you are. Then we can work with our selves. As you say, it’s a journey! Thanks so much for commenting.
Thanks for sharing that. Beautiful story!
The most important insight in my journey was recognizing the value of inner peace. There were many more worldview shattering insights along the way, but finding out about the importance of unconditional inner peace was the core part. The rest are side effects. Negative side effects of either NOT staying in inner peace . Or positive side effects of staying in inner peace.