If everything was perfect, I’d be okay. My brain would be at ease. I know this, absolutely. I have no evidence to support this belief but it has rattled in my brain forever. If only I was perfect, everything would be fine.
“Everything”, in this instance means me. If I was perfect, then life would be better. The logic that underlies that belief is this: if everything is not okay, it means I’m not perfect. And being imperfect is not an option my brain likes to acknowledge. I have a lot of time and energy invested in believing I need to be perfect in order to exist.
If I was perfect, the eating disorder would leave me alone. If I was perfect, I wouldn’t be anxious. If I was perfect, I wouldn’t suffer from depression. If I was perfect, I wouldn’t be a failure. Therefore, everything that is wrong is my fault.
The list of ways in which I judge myself as wrong is never ending. I’m not thin enough. I’m not pretty enough. My legs aren’t good enough. The way I dress is wrong. The way I put on makeup is wrong. Not wearing it is also wrong. My hair is wrong. The way I female is wrong.
My house is wrong, my decorating is wrong, and my yard is wrong. I’m not a perfect daughter, sister, or friend. I’m definitely failing at being a parent. I don’t call enough. I call too often. I don’t push enough. I push too much.
My life is wrong, my brain tells me, because things aren’t perfect and they’re imperfect because I’m imperfect. Therefore, everything that’s wrong in my life is my fault.
Except “fault” is a misnomer. And “wrong” is a very subjective term. And perfection is a lie. It is a lie we’ve been sold. We don’t come to the belief that we need to be perfect all on our own and I’m not arrogant enough to believe I am the only driven by these feelings. We’re told to be good, do things well, win, get good marks, and look the part from the time we’re toddlers. It’s only to be expected that some of us inculcate these beliefs at an extreme level. Especially if the messages come from a myriad of directions and aren’t mitigated in the home sphere by lessons that teach us that we’re enough as is.
We use the word “fault” a lot. Often when it’s inappropriate. Most times, the word “responsibility” would be better suited. Or the word “life”.
It is not my fault that I developed an eating disorder. It was not my fault that my childhood was chaotic at home and school. It was not my fault I suffered sexual abuse. It’s not my fault that I’m wired to have general anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder. It’s not my fault I have PTSD.
It is my responsibility.
I have an obligation to try and live well. To do the best I can to the best of my ability. To make full use of the time I have here – though it’s important to remember the decision as to what is a good use of time is also up to us.
We are responsible for our lives. We are responsible for our choices and actions. That seems like a lot but really it isn’t. Because that’s all we’re responsible for. Not anyone or anything else. Nothing that happened to me is my fault. But it is my responsibility to work on changing and improving and moving past conditioning once I’m aware of it.
It isn’t my responsibility to be perfect.
That drive for perfection conspicuously lacks a sense of compassion. It does not encourage us to treat ourselves well or kindly. The drive for perfection comes with a nasty inside voice that we have to learn to disregard. We are allowed to treat ourselves with compassion. We don’t have to hoard the good emotions and save them up for others. We can spend them on ourselves. We can be kind. We can be gentle. We can relax our expectations.
I know these things. Unfortunately, it’s new knowledge. And new knowledge slips away under the weight of old habits when things get hard.
I should write it in big letters on the wall. Except I’d have to get a stencil and mark all the lines out first because, perfection. Even so, it’s not a bad idea. A reminder sign, placed visibly. It’s not all your fault and you don’t have to be perfect.
Be responsible and work on the things that are in your control. It’s all anyone – even you – can ask.
Do you struggle with perfectionism?