by Kassandra Lamb
Perfect is the enemy of good – Voltaire
In a recent guest post over at Pirkko Rytkonen’s blog, I was talking about why it is hard to change our beliefs about ourselves, i.e., our self-esteem. I brought up the issue of perfectionism there, and promised to write more about it soon. Soon has arrived.
This is a big topic so I’m going to break it into two posts, one this week (how perfectionism comes to be) and one next week (what to do about it).
I plugged “perfection” into the search engine over at Wikimedia Commons. I got 1,453 results. Ninety percent of them were pictures of Mother Nature strutting her stuff. Here’s one of the ten percent. Perfectionism is not a new thing. Here’s how you can have the perfect waistline, ladies.
So how do we become perfectionists?
Perfectionists are made, not born. There are three ways we can be shaped in that direction (Note–these are not mutually exclusive; they often go hand-in-hand):
1) We had perfectionistic parents whom we modeled.
My heartfelt apologies to my son. I will never forget the day that he was helping us get our house ready for sale so we could downsize in retirement. He was twenty-two.
He and I were painting window frames on the back of the house when he paused and laughed. “Ma, I love working along side you because you’re the only person I know who’s more obsessed with perfection than I am.” I faked a laugh back but his well-meaning comment stabbed my heart. Even though he wasn’t quite as obsessive, I had passed along my too-high standards to him.
The next time I got a little paint on the cement around the window, I made myself leave it there.
2) We have poor self-worth.
We did not feel unconditionally loved as a worthwhile human being growing up, or were perhaps actively put down as worthless by someone we cared about, who’s opinion therefore helped shape our views of ourselves.
So we end up feeling like we can never be good enough. Now some kids give up at this point and become “underachievers” (I’ve received a request to discuss underachieving as well; yet another post to come.)
Others try to prove their worth by being perfect. They become little “human doings” as the psychologist, John Bradshaw, dubbed this phenomenon. Believing that if they can just do things absolutely right they will then be accepted as an okay person, they strive for perfection in every area of their lives.
3) We have poor self-confidence.
This sounds like the same thing as above, but it is subtly different. Many people may have both poor self-worth and poor self-confidence. But some folks may feel loved by their parents and other people in their lives–so their basic self-worth is good–but they were held to too critical a standard for their achievements, leaving them with poor self-confidence.
As a teenager, my self-worth wasn’t all that bad. I sensed that my mother loved me, and I knew my brother and grandmother did. Sadly, it didn’t even cross my mind to consider if my father loved me–he was that emotionally distant from us kids. He almost never played with us or helped us with a project. Which turned out to be a good thing, because the man was 100% incapable of saying “Good job.” (BTW, he came by all this honestly from his own childhood.)
I was always an A student–that was where my perfectionism was most fully displayed–but the best I could usually muster in Physical Education was a C. Every report card, my mother praised me for my good grades. And my father said, “You need to bring that C up.”
Wish I’d known then that the President of the United States was just a C+ student! (Yes, I am that old; JFK was President when I was a kid!)
So what can we do about being too perfectionistic? This is a tough task, but if you stick with it and work very hard, you can achieve it.
~ ~ And if there is one thing perfectionists are good at, it’s working hard! ~ ~
Stay tuned! Next week, the seven steps to overcoming perfectionism, perfectly! 😉
Note: One area where I let my inner perfectionist have a bit more free rein is in my writing. Thus it takes me awhile to get a new release out. So in the meantime, here’s a new novella in the Kate on Vacation series — to tide folks over until the next full-length novel is ready.
Check it out below. Then talk to me in the comments. Are you a recovering perfectionist like me, or did you manage to dodge the perfectionism bullet?
Trouble seems to find Kate Huntington, even on a Caribbean cruise. She and her friend, Liz, befriend socialite Cora Beall, who is having relationship problems. When Cora is found dead, her cabin locked from the inside, the ship’s captain assumes it’s a suicide.
Kate is skeptical. Her private detective husband begs her to let it go, but the evidence points more and more toward murder. And she can’t stop thinking about Cora’s teenage daughter who is back in the States with her stepfather. Which is worse, thinking your mother committed suicide or being raised by her killer? Or is Cora’s seemingly-innocent, screenwriter boyfriend the real murderer?
And the toughest question of all… how did Cora’s killer get out of a locked room?
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