When I was a little girl, I was sent to boarding school with my sister for 2 years. One of the reasons was because my parents had split up. We'd been living with my Dad but he travelled constantly for business and was gone most week days. So my sister and I spent a lot of time with our housekeeper, Linda. I guess Dad didn't think watching The Days of Our Lives in the afternoons was going to sufficiently stimulate our brains so he persuaded my mom that we'd be better off in Connecticut at a rigorous school.
Melissa and I had our birthdays that first fall, she turned 7 and I turned 8. We both hated being there. We had friends and the classwork was just that, school. But what we missed was home. I quickly decided that we'd been exiled because of us, so I made a decision that year.
The way to get back home was to be perfect.
Then I'd be wanted, loved and could live with mom or dad again. I became hyper aware of others' needs, reading situations and people and modifying my behavior accordingly. It worked, and 2 years later we did come home for good. But I had taken on a new role, one I excelled at and continued to embody.
In fact, I became so good at it, that as a young woman I had no idea what I wanted in my life! I was so overly consumed with pleasing my parents and doing what I was told that living for me was anathema. That's when I began to realize I'd fallen into the perfect trap. For me, it was about identity. Who was I when I wasn't pleasing someone else for love?
Turns out there are signs and indications of being a perfectionist.
Like for me, the desire to please can be a huge motivator. Sometimes perfectionists also demand high standards for themselves and can drive themselves relentlessly. It can get to crazy levels, become stressful and sometimes seem unreasonable (think Black Swan). Underlying this is really a fear of failure or of rejection. Certainly for me that was a big motivator.
I was who you wanted me to be because I didn't want to be rejected.
Another way people experience perfectionism is the inability to try new things. If I know I won't be good at it, I won't even try. I see this a lot with young people. Especially kids who are smart and capable. If it doesn't come quickly and easily, they want to abandon it. This can be a really debilitating trap because it prevents us from stretching ourselves.
We can also procrastinate and avoid things we know we may fail at and then be afraid to tell anyone how we feel or even ask for help. That would be like admitting failure. And we have to be perfect so we couldn't possibly need help or show weakness let alone vulnerability! This can also result in a defensiveness around criticism.
As I started to understand my perfectionistic behavior, I was able to slowly unhook myself from it and begin to be more honest with myself and my loved ones. This has enabled me to more easily ask for help and be kinder to myself when I screw up.
Now I see life not as a need to be perfect but as a work in progress.
This redefinition has given me so much freedom to explore and take risks. It has broadened my life experience and brought me more joy and satisfaction. So, what do you say? Ready to step out of the perfect trap?