Am I a perfectionist?

A few weeks ago I was saying how great I was feeling, and what I was doing that I thought might be contributing to that good feeling…Guess what I went and did? You’ve got it – self-sabotage.
Why? I’m not entirely sure. I stopped working out. A couple of days without because of a disrupted routine, to start with, and then I just never got going again. The green juicing got more infrequent, and I felt more and more lethargic. And I felt more and more low.

So when the Tapping World Summit started, I decided to have a listen. And I seem to have stumbled across some feelings about the past that I was unaware I’d been carrying around until now. I listened to the Tapping interview with Carol Look on perfectionism, which really struck a chord with me. I could relate to the lethargy (see above!) and hopelessness she describes as being a symptom of perfectionism. My negative self-talk is constant and sometimes overwhelming (apart from when I was feeling good and wrote that post!), and leaves me anxious and exhausted. When it came to the section of the interview about discovering where we pick up these ideas that everything has to be done to these impossibly high standards, she said she would always suggest that people go back to their childhood, and ask themselves what messages came from their parents.

I thought about this, and although I don’t have any idea where I got this tendency towards perfectionism, something Carol Look said about childhood events also made me really think. She said that we fear that if we’re not perfect, everything will fall apart, and it will be a disaster. Now, a disaster to you or me would probably be something like breaking a limb maybe, or losing your job (extreme, but you get the picture). But as children, we might have been affected to a similar extent by something a lot less extreme, such as a look from our parents, being told off in a certain way, or some other action on their part. I started to think of several, seemingly insignificant things that happened to my childhood self….

I’m still not entirely sure how the whole picture fits together, but the issue of having children of my own feels somehow related. This morning, my husband asked me if I would mind if, in the next couple of years, he was to buy an expensive item relating to his hobby. We got onto the subject of money, and where priorities would lie if we manage to have children, and then wandered away from the money side of things. I said that I get afraid sometimes, that we might have left it too late – that he might be too old for it. After calling me a cheeky so and so, and telling me to go and stand in the garden 😉 he said no we hadn’t left it too late at all. ‘Plenty of women have babies into their forties. Look at you – your mum was 40 when she had you’… And I said ‘EXACLTY! Look at how I’ve turned out!!!’

I can remember all these little instances when I felt like a nuisance, an irritation, I did something really wrong and was told off, and that ultimately my mum would rather have been doing something else than looking after me. I mean, don’t get me wrong, she loves me very much – I’m very lucky to have two parents who love me. I had a very secure upbringing. It’s just that listening to what Carol Look was saying in the interview, about the scale of the ‘disaster’ we experience as children really resonated all of a sudden. And then I saw it again this afternoon whilst reading Brene Brown’s ‘I thought it was just me’. She describes the work or Dr Uram at The Meadows, a trauma and addiction treatment facility;

‘Dr. Uram points out that we tend not to recognise the small, quiet traumas that often trigger the same brain-survival reaction [primal fight, flight and freeze responses]…I believe it’s possible that many of our early shame experiences, especially with parents and caregivers, were stored in our brains as traumas’.

My dad was often out at work throughout the day, and meetings at night, so it was just me and mum a lot of the time – or at least it felt that way to me. I remember once, when Mum had told me off for something – it must have been particularly badly because I can still feel how distraught I was, now – I desperately needed comforting, and I hugged her because there was no one else. I know that’s not really a big thing in the grand scheme of things, but to my little girl self it must have been pretty bad.

So I want to (if I’m lucky enough) make sure that my child NEVER feels unwanted or a nuisance, but a part of me worries, ‘what if I end up being just like my mum was with me?!’.

Our stories are different though. I was a surprise(!), and when she had me, my mum had already had two children, one of whom had already left home (and would later drop out of college, no doubt causing my parents a lot of worry). So my Parents had thought that my brother and sister were going to be their only children, before I came along. My mum therefore hadn’t been intending to spend the next however many years of her life caring for another child. I know that she had been bewildered, and even resentful when she and Dad first got married. She hadn’t realised it how it would be. It was the early sixties and Dad went to work whilst she was left with the kids at home. I think it was difficult for her to cope with the inequality of the situation – which must have been echoed in young married couples’ homes everywhere I guess. So yes, my situation is different – a lot different.

Back to the perfectionism. I’m also starting to wonder if that has an impact on how I handle being around other peoples babies. Am I just jealous, or am I terrified that I’ll be judged if I don’t ‘do it right’. I know I worry about being less of a woman because I don’t have children. I mean, I know there are a lot of us out there (and I really could do with hanging out with someone in the same boat!), and I shouldn’t feel this way, but it’s hard not to feel in some way inadequate. But that’s also part of the issue of my own self-worth….

I know, I know, I think far too much. My thoughts are relentless and unforgiving, but sometimes I can’t do anything other than go through the process of actually thinking them, and letting everything bubble up and escape. Otherwise I would go mad! (Perhaps I already am!)

But at least I do not drink. Sobriety is helping me get to the bottom of all this stuff, I know it. There is a point to going to these places in my mind. Like they say in the tapping interviews, we need to go to the root of the feeling before we can begin to clear whatever is blocked, and heal ourselves in order to change. I had better start tapping….

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7 thoughts on “Am I a perfectionist?”

    1. I’ve just had a re-read of that definition and the page before it. Yes that sounds about right for me! Plus I’d forgotten that shame and perfectionism are so closely related. I do seem to have issues with both. Was it mainly this book that helped you deal with perfectionism?

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      1. Yes. I did the online course Brene brown and Oprah did on the gifts of imperfection and found it hugely helpful. My art journal from it is a big step in my sobriety.

        Understanding perfectionism helps me recognize when I start down that path. I expect I will be working on understanding my own triggers forever!

        I spent a long time thinking my perfectionist tendencies helped me be successful, but I see now that they only hindered me.

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