What’s Wrong With Wanting to be Perfect?

perfectYou know how all those hippy-dippy new-agey pro-therapy weirdos are always saying you can’t really love someone else until you love yourself? I’ve always said I believe that, but to be honest, I never really understood the logic behind it. That started to change last winter, when the weather crept into my heart and I was filled with … I wasn’t sure what, but it manifested as anger, my fallback emotion. I was blowing up more than I have in years – particularly at Ben & the Dog. And while the specific trigger for my anger was at times a legitimate complaint, it did not justify the intensity of the reaction. Being, let’s say “blessed” with self-awareness and apparently benefiting from years of daily meditation (maybe? a little?), I didn’t revel in feeling angry the way I used to and I knew there had to be a personal reason for it.

The “aha” moment soon rose up like bile. The common source of everything I freaked out about was self loathing. I wasn’t that angry as V for disobeying me: I hated myself for not training her better. I  wasn’t that angry at Ben for not washing the dishes: I hated myself for not keeping a perfect house without him. I wasn’t that angry at the coworker who was wrongly accusing my team of an error: I hated myself for not quadruple-checking every freaking detail. I was failing everywhere, all the time.

It’s been easy to hide my self-loathing from myself for two primary reasons

  1. I actually like me, mostly.
  2. The failures for which I excoriate myself are perfectly rational. Or so I’ve thought.

There’s nothing wrong with expecting myself to train my dog well, or keep my house clean, or be fastidious at work, right? Or eat perfectly or never waste time or get the highest score on every test? Remember that 80s film Perfect, with Jamie Lee Curtis? I never saw it (well look at my fancy-ass self!), but I remember identifying with her tag line in the previews, “What’s wrong with wanting to be perfect?” Ironically, looking that up just now to make sure I didn’t get it wrong (perfection!), I found the whole line, which is:

What’s wrong with wanting to be the best you can be? What’s wrong with wanting to be perfect? What’s wrong with wanting to be loved?

Which means at least one of the writers was trying to cram some meaning into a vehicle for aerobics & Reeboks. Because that’s the problem, isn’t it? I hate all my supposed inadequacies because I don’t believe I am worthy of love unless I am different that what I am. (Ugh. That looks so pathetic typed out.) Learning what all this encompasses is an ongoing process. My previous post is the tiniest example of the myriad ways in which I critique and abuse myself. I guess it should have been a sign that my greatest achievements in school happened after I told my parents I was no longer going to tell them my grades. “I’m not doing this for anybody!” I naively thought, cleverly hiding from myself the fact that I am by far my worst critic.

But it couldn’t have started with me. Just as no child is born a bigot (albeit with a predisposition to people who look like their people until exposed to others – not the subject of this blog), no child is born hating themselves. It’s learned behavior that can be taught by parents, society, trauma – any number of awesome abusers out there. I won’t go into my sources now, but they did a damn fine job, I tell ya!

The most pertinent example of my perfectionism is my inability to show any writing to anyone until it’s been edited at least a dozen times. In an effort to actually churn out more work, I am attempting to write shorter, less perfect blogs. So I’ll leave this here for now. Hope to see you soon.

2 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With Wanting to be Perfect?

  1. THIS, yes! My perfectionism/self-loathing came-up strong around year 3 of being a parent and clung hard until a couple of years ago when I read a good blog that helped me notice that I had an inner-bully. Maybe it comes up in mid-life regardless of what we’re doing. Thank you for writing about this. I love you and your writing.


    1. I love you! Thank you for reading and responding. Yeah, I think it probably comes up when we’re mature enough and lucky enough to be open to recognizing it. I wish it were as easy to get rid of it.


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