As a recovering perfectionist, I often need to remind myself not to get too caught up in details. Perfectionists can tweak and tweak and tweak….and tweak a thing until we end up doing far more harm than good. I’ve used a simple mantra over the past few years which has helped me immensely: “good enough can be good enough.” It’s a gentle reminder that usually the most critical eye in the room is my own. This week is one when many people will be in my living space. The perfectionist is yammering loud and proud in my head. Criticizing this, critiquing that, generally expressing discontent for the decidedly non-magazine spread style in which I live.
The difficulty in living with perfectionism is that she can never be satisfied. She oozes discontent everywhere she goes, and her appetite is insatiable. She gnaws and bellows and judges. You can see why it’s exhausting to live with her in my head. Over time I have learned to quiet her, but there are some weeks when her strident insistence is ever present.
Lately I practice meditation which is teaching me to observe things about myself without judging them. This is especially helpful in quieting hyper-critical self talk that stems from perfectionism. When she’s reminding me of all the things I’m doing wrong, doing imperfectly, or not doing at all, I am able to say, “Well hello perfectionism. I see you there.” While I don’t reject or resist her, I am not obligated to react to her. I don’t have to force my critical inner voice into silence and submission. Instead, I can simply let them be what they are without agreeing or aligning with their message.
This awareness takes practice, and I am often caught in the spiral of self-critical thought before I catch myself. When I do, I take a few deep breaths and emotionally disengage. But I do catch myself, before the anxiety settles in, before I plant another layer of deprecating critique on the soil of my soul. I stop where I am, mid-thought and gently acknowledge, “Perfection, I see you there but I don’t have to play your game today.” Resistance merely feeds judgmental thoughts of worthlessness and imperfection, but acceptance frees me from having to play destructive mind games.
It’s possible I will never be free of perfectionism. She’s been with me for most of my life. Un-writing her part of my story would be a long and fruitless endeavor, possibly even unraveling parts of my personality that I am unwilling to give up. Sometimes my focus on detail and fine points serves me well. Sometimes the flip side of criticism is discernment. Often a trait, even one as harsh as perfectionism, isn’t entirely bad if only you can accept it’s darker side along with its better one, and choose wisely who you allow the louder voice.
This non-judgmental acceptance of the flawed and broken parts of my personality is still in its infancy. I nurture it, feed it, and practice it every day. I’m not adept at it or as comfortable with it as I hope to one day be. But every time I stop to breathe, every time I welcome perfectionism to the table without allowing her to dominate the conversation, I experience grace. I am grateful for all the pieces that make up this complex creature I call me. It’s a form of compassion to self to welcome my vices as warmly as I welcome my virtues. This is self-love, accepting every part of my soul as she is. It’s just another step towards wholeness on a long and winding journey.
Speaking of imperfection, I am imperfectly inviting anyone who is interested to a monthly-ish email. These emails will have content that isn’t on the blog and hopefully will grow to include some cool freebies. I’m working on an imperfect plan and experiencing grace in the growing.