I’d love to know the percentage of people who have come through trauma who are raging perfectionists. I know I am. It’s been my longest and hardest habit to break.
I’ve derived so much of my confidence from being able to beat the odds, rise above, overcome obstacles that would decimate the average person.
I had a friend who worked capital cases for the state. She represented men on death row. Her job was to study their pasts, their childhoods, and find mitigating factors to bring to the court and an attempt to save their lives. She told me that my own history and childhood, which she knew much about, was either indistinguishable from or worse than many of these murders. Men who had gone through some of the most harrowing and traumatizing things a person can go through.
I wore that remark like a badge of honor. In some ways, I still do. If I can be better than the average person WITH all of my trauma – holy shit…I must be REMARKABLE.
I’ve built my sense of self on what I can accomplish and how far I can push myself. I get so much worth from taking everything to the next level. I seem to be allergic to doing anything normal. Being average has always frightened me. It’s part of why I used drugs – I didn’t want to be the ordinary, everyday depressed and anxious person. If I was going to suffer, I was going to suffer well. Make it an art form.
That’s hard to admit on some level. But it’s true. My outside struggle needed to match my interior pain. I never wanted to be a run-of-the-mill fuck-up. I wanted to mess my life up bigger and better than anyone I had met. And I did.
I don’t want to be average in anything I do. I think that is honestly my biggest fear in life.
Suffice it to say, I’m an extreme person. And on some level, I always will be. I’ve found much more productive ways to channel this aspect of my personality but I’d love to temper the more extreme bits. Be softer with myself and other people.
And then there’s parenting. My greatest responsibility and the ultimate way in which my perfectionism rears it’s ugly head. There’s the pressure we put on ourselves to be good parents, the high expectations we have of our kids, and the pressure we internalize from the societal image of a perfect parent. Then you add in childhood trauma – whew! Parenting is exhausting enough without this unnecessary bondage.
But I’m softest with my children. That’s how I learn what I want to be like. They are my guiding light. They’ve taught me all of my best lessons and I get so much strength, resilience and inspiration from raising them.
But I still strive so hard to be perfect for them. To be give everything that I did not get. The feeling is hard to describe. The stakes feel so high…like life and death. The thoughts of all that I need to do and learn and be bite at my heels daily. All of the hard work and determination feels constantly threatened by my past, by my trauma, by all the horrible and disgusting mistakes of my family. I am haunted yet driven to protect them. It consumes me – I spend most of my time aiding myself in healing the broken parts, repairing the blind spots, meditating, praying, healing my nervous system, working on myself and my relationship with my husband, reading books, listening to podcasts, etc etc etc. It’s unending. It is NEVER enough. If I stop maybe my past will catch up with me and then consume them too… and that can never let that happen.
These are my fears of course. Rationally, I know that resting more, being less perfectionistic and gentle with myself is not going to result in their harm. But it’s a constant battle.
Thanks to prayer and daily mindfulness, I am becoming more aware of these perfectionistic thoughts as they arise. I’m getting better at recognizing them, but still baffled at the weight they carry and how they affect my well-being.
Research shows perfectionism can both aid and hinder us…and I believe that to be true in my own life. It had driven my to become the person I really truly love and respect today but I am still working hard to find that balance.
How had perfectionism showed up in your own healing journey? The good, the bad and the ugly?