I usually have an idea that pops into my mind each week to write about in my blog. This week the theme of perfectionism showed up, and how apropos that when I started to write about it nothing came forward. It is fitting that this subject brings on immediate writer’s block. Just thinking about it is enough to stifle the creative juices. It makes me laugh to think how easy it is for certain conditioned thoughts to look so real that they don’t even look like thoughts at all. It is like wearing virtual reality goggles without knowing you have them on.
My habit of perfectionism happens when I engage in a repetitive self-critical thought pattern, consciously or unconsciously, to try to combat feelings of unworthiness that result from of other habitual irrational thoughts. My feelings of unworthiness are a reflection of my self-judgments telling myself I am unworthy.
Isn’t that clever, coming up with erroneous habitual thoughts to combat other erroneous habitual thoughts? Now that, perhaps, is the definition of crazy!
I am known as the uptight one in my home — the rule follower. I like things to be precise, and I can be critical of those who aren’t. Well really, it is usually just my husband. He doesn’t have a pattern of perfectionism and rigidity the way I do. He is, on the whole, a lot more laid back and relaxed than I am. Other than this strange quirk of needing to get to the airport before flights hours earlier than necessary.
When I am in a good mood, feeling relaxed and at ease, I either don’t have perfectionist thoughts, or, if I do, I can laugh them off and see how ridiculous they are. However, when my mood is lower, I can get caught up believing insecure thoughts and feel anxious and out of control because an “i” wasn’t dotted or a line was colored over. At these times, it looks to me, like my safety comes from my inner and outer world being in order, and I try to banish chaos. I feel safe thinking I can control my world. Of course, this is only ever a short lived illusion, but it is doesn’t stop me from trying sometimes.
My kind of control freakishness doesn’t look like labeling all of the spices in the cupboard and arranging them in neat alphabetized rows, nor is it assuaged by massive deep cleaning of the house. All of these would be somewhat useful. However, my flavor is more smug and patronizing.
It looks more like derisory comments when my husband puts something in the cupboard that should go in the fridge (True, this could have resulted in life threatening food poisoning when he did this with the fish sauce, but I could have been nicer about it at the time), or unrelentingly mentioning the the one thing my husband didn’t do, while ignoring the other thousand things he did. I can treat myself the same way as well. I can see myself through the lens of criticism and find myself lacking. I can ruminate on things I get wrong, or focus on my flaws.
It is hard for me to have compassion for myself when I have these behaviors. Even though I know they come into action when I am feeling anxious and stressed, it is difficult to love myself unconditionally and include these personality traits. How can I love myself with my imperfections? Perfectionism dictates I will be lovable when they are gone.
As I write this, I do feel compassion for these frailties I have. I still wish they would go away, but I have warm feelings toward myself for having the fear that underlies all of the complicated and convoluted ways I try to give myself the experience of safety. It is only fear that prevents me from simply being present with feelings until my thinking settles, and until I can see the thoughts behind the feelings are not true.
When my perfectionism rears its head, I feel constricted and constrained. I approach life as if I am walking on eggshells, or as if I am walking a tightrope a hundred feet in the air without a safety net. I want those I love to see it the same way, and when they don’t, I wonder, “How can they be cavorting and playing, not taking this seriously when I am precariously perched on a thin wire ready to fall to my death in an instant?”
What I am learning over and over again, is that death is a far better choice than trying to stay on the tightrope. It is only ever a death of my self-importance, a death of my looking good, a death of my pride, a death of an idea. It is a letting go and a surrendering of my puffed up ego. My ego may be like a phoenix that continues to rise from the ashes of each demise, but with each death, there is a more freedom, more spaciousness, and more room for love.
As the cracks in the illusion of my self-importance show up, I don’t experience the unworthiness and annihilation I so desperately sought to avoid. Instead, I feel liberated! Free from the bonds and constraints I thought were keeping me together, only to find there is actually nothing to be kept together after all.
What I was working so hard to protect doesn’t even exist. It is all made up — only thought. And yes, thought will constantly emerge. Thought, after thought, after thought, never ending, but when I see thought as the ever changing kaleidoscope of my creation, and not who I am, then it becomes easier to dance with it, play with it, and have fun with it. I can take my thinking less seriously. I don’t need to identify with it. I also don’t need to banish it.
Freedom lies in understanding that it doesn’t matter what I think or what I do with my thoughts, because eventually I will relax and experience my natural state of peace, equanimity, and loving no matter what thought adventure or thought terror I have been on. My fear is only ever the product of me believing my distorted thinking and my misunderstandings. I can only ever feel temporarily disconnected from the oneness of my true Self and the infinite well of love that is inside of me.