Once upon a time, I was a perfectionist. I had to be perfect at work, at home, as a mother, as a wife, as a human being. Because I was striving for an ideal that was created from my own imagination with a generous helping of media, rather than striving to be my best and to love, perfectionism actually caused me to fail. I was a nervous wreck from trying so hard, and when things went wrong in any way, I couldn’t handle it, and lashed out at anyone near me. This caused my children, whom I adore, to fear me, and made it hard for me to do well and form friendships at work.
My perfectionism stemmed, I think, from being poor and not having parents I could rely on. I never had a safety net, so for me, falling always carried the threat of hitting the concrete hard. Even when I had a good job and a family, the fear didn’t go away. It trapped me as closely as the Count of Monte Cristo’s mask.
“Tal Ben-Shahar, researcher, positive psychologist and Harvard professor, has proven and shown that perfectionism is a leading cause of unhappiness”, says Carin Rockind in Positive Psychology News. I can attest to that! Perfectionism not only caused me to fail, it caused me to live life unhappily. I was never content with myself or anything around me, not because I was greedy but because I had not made things perfect. My family’s furniture had scuff marks. The dinners I made were sometimes received with indifference, or, worse, disgust from my children. My wardrobe was not fashionable. I had stretch marks.
The truth is that perfectionism is the ultimate from of self-centeredness. The idea that you can be perfect or make things perfect is a delusion of grandeur. The best that you can do is your best. You are going to fail, but if you learn from failures you have succeeded. I failed, then I berated myself for having failed. It has taken me into my 50s to give up my perfectionism and let the universe run itself, which it does anyway. I am much happier now, and though my relationship with my children still bears scars, I am working to make new and better relationships with them. This time, I think I will succeed.