Someone needs to tell the perfectionists and control freaks out there that they are making everyone else miserable. We don’t need your stinkin’ perfection!
You know those the traits that you find most frustrating in others are the really the things that you hate about yourself? You know what I’m saying.
Hello, my name is Susanna and I’m a perfectionist/control freak.
In my defense, perfectionism is considered sort of a virtue in our society. Perfectionists do a great job with the things they choose to focus on. Every detail is considered, every inch of the car, yard, or kitchen in perfect condition, everything beautifully decorated or presented. Forget about the rest of your lives or relationships, they play second fiddle to the perfectionist/control freak’s obsessions.
I thought I was so clever during interviews to answer “I’m a perfectionist” when someone asked me what was my biggest flaw. That’s right, turn that frown upside down and turn my shortcoming into an asset!
Yeah, right. I hope they saw right through my little charade. What I should’ve said, if I was really truthful, was that I’m too insecure to tolerate human imperfection from myself or anyone else. Or, it’s too scary for me to consider that I might not be perfect because that might mean I need to change, or worse, that I’m an unworthy human being. Or maybe I’d say that the world is too scary to me, and so I have to try to control everything in it to feel safe.
But if I had said those things, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the job or admitted to school because then I just sound like a head case.
I know the truth now. When students or prospective employees tell me somewhat proudly about how they’re perfectionists, then I know they’re full of it. They’re still in denial about how miserable they’re making themselves and others, how counterproductive that philosophy is toward their work and their relationships. On the surface, they may look completely put together – articulate, poised, well dressed, well groomed. But inside, they’re a mess just like I am.
Or I was. I’m in the recovery phase, and to shake off that delusion of control and perfection was not pretty.
First I had to take a hard look at myself to determine how I was contributing to my dysfunctional life and relationships. Simply examining my expectations of myself and my loved ones and putting them into realistic context for the first time was a sobering experience. This takes a fair amount of honesty that doesn’t come easily. I had to do it because my marriage was falling apart and I was becoming ill. If you haven’t reached rock bottom, then this step takes a huge amount of courage and maturity. If you’re the type that is never satisfied with yourself or others – maybe this should be your wake-up call.
Underneath my unrealistic and unfair expectations I was imposing on myself and others was also my hateful self-talk. This talk was not at all conscious. It was this inner slave-driver that kept saying something like, “if you’re not perfect, you’re not going to be OK, you will not be acceptable or worthy of love.” This voice was absolutely relentless but totally subconscious. If someone tried to tell me I was being over-the-top, I just brushed them off as being too lax. After all, I had high standards.
I think the most important step for me was then to forgive myself for being, well, commonly human. Sometimes I’m wrong, sometimes I make mistakes, sometimes I’m clueless – oh well. I’m just like everyone else. Strangely, when I forgave myself, I was able to forgive others for just being commonly human too.
I’m having this control freak/perfectionism conversation with myself when 9/11 happened. The remnants of my illusions of control came tumbling down with the towers. How’s that for finding a silver lining out of an unimaginable disaster? It is a small one but a silver lining nonetheless.
Now I am a recovering perfectionist/control freak. I have learned to be more comfortable with those now-occasional feelings of not being good enough, realizing that quality of life, balance, healthy relationships and working on that which is most important is a much preferable approach to controlling a few things to perfection. I have really, truly learned that my loved ones love me anyway, maybe more, when I’m not trying to be something that I’m not, or make them into something they’re not. I have embraced the parts of me that suck, for those are the places I can grow. My blind spots are still my blind spots, I can’t do anything about that but try to be open to finding them. I’m much more accepting of the uncertainty of life, and the unimaginable possibilities that accompany the unknown.
“There is much more in heaven and earth Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy” – William Shakespeare.
I have a much, much lighter feeling in my chest. That tightness that comes from always believing something is wrong, something is wrong, I’m bad/wrong, is gone. In its place is an openness to exploring the beautiful nuance that is the human struggle to find our place in the world, and the way our lives open up if we don’t try to control it. My remaining perfectionist/control freak tendencies are focused on balance and quality of life. That is really where the money is.