Saturday, May 9, 2009

Haunting Perfectionism

I'd like to throw away perfectionism! It keeps popping up in my life like a noxious weed. I pull it out and pull it out, but it finds new places to crop back up.

I know when I developed the drive to do things perfectly. I may have born with extra drive and a desire to excel; genetics may play a part. I was also the oldest child and oldest children often are achievers. Also when I was a small child, my dad often told me to redo something that I'd already put my best effort into. And both my parents were stern and strict and often seemed displeased with me. I tried harder and harder to win their approval. I did the same in school--always wanting straight A's and miserable if I got an A- or B+ in something. Even when I got an A, I was blue if someone else got an A+. I left childhood with the feeling that I could never do anything well enough. I did "good" and even "better than the majority", but it was still never "enough."

As a young adult, I spent years with a man who was never happy. I seemed to displease him no matter how hard I tried to avoid trouble. Instead of quitting, I tried harder and harder to please him. And once again, I couldn't. No matter how much effort and concentration I put into it, I could not make our home peaceful or safe. My husband actually became more out-of-control the longer we were together. My efforts weren't enough.

Now I can easily see that I was trying to manipulate abusive people into being nicer to me. It was doomed to fail.

Years ago, I confronted the idea of "being perfect." I know it is impossible. I am human. I discovered that perfectionism isn't desirable in many situations. In relationships, it actually hinders intimacy and realness. Being around someone who is always trying to be perfect isn't much fun. It's stifling.

So, I see the uselessness of trying to be perfect. And yet...that weed still reasserts itself.

I just finished phase one of a weight management diet. During phase 1, most people lose 20-40 pounds and some lose 15. It was explained to me that people closer to their ideal weight tend to lose 10-15 and those who are extremely obese tend to lose 40 or more pounds. I heard the information, but it was really irrelevant. I had already decided I would lose 40-45 pounds. The only thing I had control over was whether I followed the diet instructions strictly. I followed them to the letter, perfectly if you will. I lost 16 pounds and 2 inches off all the really visible trouble spots. Instead of celebrating the great progress, I was mourning this week because I really thought I should out perform the norms. I should be an A or A+ student. Hence my need to pull out some weed pesticide.

What pesticide will work? I prayed to see if I needed to look at any new issues or re-examine old ones. I think that in this case, I just need to accept that I've had perfectionism in my thinking since I was very young, so it will still pop up sometimes. I have choices though. I am going to celebrate the weight loss. I am going to treat myself with respect and not punish myself for desiring something unrealistic.

In that spirit, I went clothes shopping yesterday. I am happy to report that I am down a full size! It is actually my normal size. I still have some excess pounds, but I am back into my normal pant size at least with some brands. I will be fully back to normal when I can wear any brand in that size. I am getting close! My efforts did pay off. I have done enough with phase one of the diet plan. Ah! Just writing the words brings added relief. I've done well enough. Yes!

Does perfectionism creep up in your life? If so, how goes the battle? Are you learning how to see if it leads to a train of thoughts that need healing? Have you done that healing and now it is a process of retraining your thoughts and beliefs? Wherever you are in the process, God understands and can help you to know what your next step is.


Anonymous said...

I was so blessed to have loving parents who supported and praised me. Perfectionism in my case then , must be a choice. I too have that weed in my garden.

Congratulations on the weight loss! I am counting calories right now too because my 8 extra pounds of winter weight has made my spring clothes tight :(

Tanya T. Warrington said...


It is a wonderful blessing to have had loving parents. I am so glad that you have that foundation.

Perfectionism is hard work to overcome, isn't it. I've even caught myself trying to be perfect at breaking perfectionism!

Thanks on the congrats. Good luck with your efforts too. Better physical health is another wonderful blessing.


Keystone said...

I like your blog.

I like the home page with the beautiful dazzling butterfly......for any of us can transform from a slug on the ground to a winged free spirit, with God.

I like your working at overcoming adversity.

We all struggle with significance, but you take the time to turn on a flashlight and spot one item of significance at a time.

My brother married into one of these perfectionist types, and one of my 8 sisters is caught in this web without knowing it too.

I spotted it at my brother's in-laws when I saw a garage that you could eat off the floor.
Cans of chemicals had to be stored alphabetically and faced forward, 1/4 inch from the shelf edge.
Brake Cleaner MUST always come before Glass Cleaner.
How exhausting to be in that trap.

A visit to my sister in Oregon revealed the same trap caught from in-laws.
Her kitchen is huge, the house 4 stories, and closets exist for food, pots and pans, coffee makers, etc.
I managed to find a spice she needed, and slung it back on the shelf after use. Later, she pulled me into the spice room and showed me the "proper" place for paprika is in the "P" section alphabetically. Face Forward too.

Life is too short for this challenge of perfectionism, for no matter how good you get it, it can be better.

We live in a dirty world.
Polish your furniture on a sunny day and look through the rays of sunlight. Dust is in the air everywhere. It will settle downward and you will need to dust the furniture again.
But not 24/7 to be perfectly dustless.

People go through life banged up, bruised, punched, and smothered,...
and that is just on the INSIDE. We can not see those damages, so just expect that they are there in everyone, the same as you expect your next breath will contain air to keep you alive.

Our God is able to be perfect, but accept imperfection in all he created.

We can too.

YOU, Tanya, are worth more than many sparrows.

Tracy said...

Hi Tanya,

I also used to be a perfectionist. I never thought about it as you did, playing into a relationship like that, but I can see what you mean.

I finally had to let perfectionism go when I had enough kids that it became them or the perfectionism! You know, take care of them or have a perfectly clean house kind of thing. I still feel that perfectionistic urge sometimes, but it is less as time goes by.

Tanya T. Warrington said...

Thank you for your comments, Keystone.

God is the one who helps so many in this world overcome adversities that are crushing. With Him, what is impossible for us individually becomes possible because of his power, peace, love, joy, patience...

Thanks for putting your finger on the word significance. The desire to be love and the desire to be significant are so universal, aren't they. I pray that all the readers of this blog will continue to grow in understanding the depth of God's love and our significance in His eyes. He loves us! We are valuable to Him! We are cherished; even on the days when we have trouble getting in touch with these truths.

Tanya T. Warrington said...

Having children who I wanted to play with and read to did much to break me of perfectionism in my housekeeping.

Recommended Books

  • 10 Lifesaving Principles for Women in Difficult Marriages by Karla Downing
  • A Way of Hope by Leslie J. Barner
  • Angry Men and the Women Who Love Them by Paul Hegstrom
  • Battered But Not Broken by Patricia Riddle Gaddis
  • Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
  • Bradshaw on the Family by John Bradshaw
  • Caring Enough to Forgive/Not Forgive by David Augsburger
  • Codependent No More by Melody Beattie
  • Healing the Wounded Heart by Dr. Dan B. Allendar
  • Keeping the Faith: Questions and Answers for the Abused Woman by Marie M. Fortune
  • Perfect Daughters by Robert J. Ackerman, Ph.D.
  • Recovery: A Guide for Adult Children of Alcoholics by Herbert L. Gravitz and Julie D. Bowden
  • Safe People by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
  • Slay Your Own Dragons by Nancy Good
  • The Cinderella Syndrome by Lee Ezell
  • The Dance of Anger by Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Ph.D.
  • The Search for Significance by Robert S. McGee
  • Turning Fear to Hope by Holly Wagner Green
  • When Violence Comes Home: Help for Victims of Spouse Abuse by Tim Jackson and Jeff Olson
  • Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft