Perfectionism – the ultimate trap that comes back to bite you
When you don’t feel good enough you aim to compensate with perfectionism only to realize that no matter how good you are, it still isn’t good enough – that’s one trap.
When you feel like a failure, perfectionism is alluring. You do your best and more to be the tops in everything hoping to be idolized and admired. But you find that it’s the naughty folks, those who break the rules, who ignore protocols and norms of behavior, that get away with everything. The naughty ones seem to make connections, get the jobs and the romantic partners that you thought should be the prize for those who do everything ‘right.’ This is the second trap – discovering that the reward you thought you earned actually goes to the least perfect among us.
The third trap is when you feel even more like a failure because your perfectionism failed to get you the rewards you expected for being the ‘good’. Discovering that your sacrificial strategy is all for nothing is the probably the biggest trap of all. All that investment you put into being the icon for following rules, ‘good’, reliable, righteous, unselfish, and forgiving not only brought no dividends, but are given to others who gambled with flouting the rules and got the jackpot! It’s infuriating and exasperating.
You feel denuded of any self-worth and shitty about yourself. Your perfectionism now turns against you, punishing you for not being perfect enough to succeed.
Perfectionism – the response to the wound of feeling unwanted
Perfectionists find it hard to tolerate, never mind accept that as a human being you are bound to be imperfect. Your perfectionism means that you have to be better than, more than, last longer than, and SUFFER MORE THAN others.
The energy that flows into perfectionism comes from fear that your inherent ‘badness’ will doom you forever to the backwaters of life, where you’ll never be seen, heard or even exist – AN EXISTENTIAL THREAT.
Perfectionism – shows up through living a life of masochistic martyrdom
Perfectionism goes along with self-sacrifice and martyrdom, in an effort to enthrall your loved ones so that they find you irresistible – long for you, bring you close and never let you go – salving and bandaging the agonizing throbbing wound of feeling unwanted. Perfectionism keeps you in a constant state of competitiveness to be ‘the one’ and often ‘the only one’ who will capture the heart of your beloved. Then you’ll never have to worry about being usurped, the way Ian, the character in the book felt. He was in perpetual competition for the love and attention of his wife, threatened by her cats, her family of origin and then his own children. He martyred himself, becoming a slave to demands hoping to be acknowledged and cared for. But by giving all the power to his significant others to make him happy, he ended up becoming dependent on them for his happiness. He was willing to hurt himself – be masochistic by using his saintliness as the conduit that would bring him love and take him off the hook to discover his worthiness and act like it.
Perfectionism is a way of managing envy and pain
What happens when you see others around you loved and cherished by their parents, friends and family? How do you feel when other people are the popular ones, the wanted ones, the magnetic ones, and you aren’t?
Yes, you probably feel envy, rage and pain. It’s unbearable and unsustainable. So how do you survive?
You step into the costume of a perfectionist. That way you don’t have to feel envy, rage or fear. You don’t have to compare yourself negatively to others, because you are in a class of your own.
Perfectionism stops you having to feel – pretty much anything
When you feel unwanted, bad about yourself and insecure, it’s going to take a toll on you. But if you freeze your feelings with the ice of perfectionism, then you feel good about yourself. You strive to be the best. Yes, it sucks when that perfectionism is fleeting, or doesn’t make the world any different, but at least you don’t have to feel those unbearable feelings of envy that make you want to jump out of your skin and be born again into someone else’s skin. Giving up being human means you don’t have to feel the negative feelings that once plagued you, that felt like you were being tortured, punished for something you had no control over. Perfectionism gives you control – until it controls you
Assuming the role of a perfectionist gives you an illusion of control in a world that is otherwise uncertain, unstable and posing an existential threat.
Marion Woodman, in her book Addiction to Perfection, describes the force this way: “The addiction to perfection…be seen as a rejection of life…The striving for control is a fear of dependence-an infantile, stark terror that the beloved object of that dependency cannot be depended on for love, even for love itself.”
You’ll see that quote on page 185, of Ian: From Feeling Unwanted to Wanting to Feel. The burden to be perfect.
Ian strove to be perfect precisely in order to secure the feeling of being wanted, important and meaningful to his loved ones.
Go on the journey with him to get a moment-to-moment account of how he nearly destroyed himself with his grip on perfectionism as the tool to get love, and how he eventually allowed himself to be human. Through his long and arduous therapeutic endeavor he finally found that he could be loved not because he was perfect, but because he was imperfect, just like everyone else.