The Origins of Perfection

The Origins of Perfection. That sounds like a book title. Perhaps it would be a good title for the book I one day hope to write. I’ve often wondered where my attitude of perfectionism comes from. I think we all have it to some extent, but for some of us, it defines who we are, what we do, and how we think. We let the need to be perfect take over our lives and this prevents us from being who we really are.

In addition to not being much of a housekeeper, I’m not much of an interior decorator either. I can put my clothes and makeup together, but figuring out how to match up curtains with furniture, or dish towels and kitchen rugs makes no sense to me. When I go to other people’s homes everything seems to match up…perfectly. Even the pictures on the walls. When I had my own apartment, the decorations in my house were all over the place. For example, my living room wall was decorated on one side with a portrait of a flute, on another wall, I had a big portrait of black people playing jazz, on another wall, I had a big picture of the most beautiful tigers. In my bedroom, I had a big framed poster of the characters from The Lord of the Rings movies, and on another wall was a picture of the Chicago White Sox emblem.

You get my drift. These things had no synchronicity, but they expressed me. If you knew me well, these expressions of me made sense. If you didn’t know me well, or were just getting to know me, all of this may have been confusing to you if you visited my place. The question is, am I okay with another person’s uncomfortable feelings in response to me being me? Should I strive to be someone else’s version of perfect?

It all depends. I may seem okay on the outside, but internally, I am calling myself names: weird, freak, not normal, strange…

Imperfect.

***

When I became an adult (which sometimes I feel was only a few minutes ago, haha), I began to take a subtle look at the affects of growing up in an alcoholic home. I learned from various reading that usually, adult children of alcoholics tend to be perfectionists. But why?

It wasn’t until I began my most recent self awareness journey, which includes spirituality, therapy, 12 step recovery, and an abundance of new life changing literature, that I realized an overarching theme when it comes to perfection…SHAME.

“…shame loves perfectionists–it’s so easy to keep us quiet.” -Brene Brown

In this quote from her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown is talking about “truth-telling” and owning our story, no matter how messy it is. It’s part of the reason why I am so honest about so much stuff on my blog.

“Perfectionism is a response to a shame-based and controlling home. The child mistakenly believes that she can avoid being shamed if she is perfect in her thinking and acting…expectations are continually raised in these kinds of homes. Shame or the feeling that we have failed our parents seems to occur no matter what we do.” –Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA)

One of my goals this year is to let go of shame. I didn’t even know that shame was an issue for me until last year. Guilt was always my culprit, and I had begun to recognize my guilty feelings. Shame was really sneaky. It had always been there, but I thought that it was an issue for other people. But once I realized shame was an issue, I immediately began to take the steps to let go of it.

“Guilt and shame are not useful as a way of life.” -Melody Beattie

I am trying not to be a prisoner of shame, which enables me to feed on this need to be perfect. Because without shame, there would be no concept of perfectionism…at least on the human level. We all have ways in which we can improve or enhance ourselves. But we must accept the way things are in the present before any true change can take place.

When I start to fill my head with shame and begin the struggle for perfection, it’s usually helpful for me to remember how my Samson kitty sees me (except when he’s mad at me for not giving him more Fancy Feast) with complete love and no judgment.

Or better yet, remember how your Higher Power sees you…as imperfectly perfect.

There is good and bad, and that is good. There is perfect and imperfection, and that is perfect. -TAO SHAN

Sources

  • Beattie, Melody (2009). Codependent No More (Kindle Location 1841). BookMobile. Kindle Edition.
  • Brown, Brene (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection (p. 39). BookMobile. Kindle Edition.

8 thoughts on “The Origins of Perfection

  1. Great article and topic. For me I don’t think there is such a thing as perfection and I’ve had to learn that the hard way! My decorator skills are sorely lacking too lol. My husband and I, if we had an unlimited budget, could probably do better but in a way I wonder if it wouldn’t be an accurate reflection of “us” if everything matched!

  2. Michele – This post hits home. I have often been too much a perfectionist to admit I have a tinge of perfectionism going on, but I know I do. It’s subtle and I fight it, but it’s there. Reading this post made me see the connection between growing up in an alcoholic home (yes, me too) and that sense of not wanting to show the world who I am. As a child I was definitely ashamed of living in an alcoholic home. I’m not sure how we get the idea that it is our shame. It’s not our fault that one or more of our parents has a drinking problem but feelings, especially for children are not rational. Now I will have to go back and read some of those books!

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