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Perfectionism leaves no room for our humanity

I don't know about you, but I've spent a lot of my life trying to "do things right". I don't like making mistakes - in other words, I prefer to see a straight line between the things I do, and achieving what I intended from those actions. It provides a sense of comfort and control when I do something, or make a decision, which works out as I expected. Conversely, I feel bad when it doesn't.

This desire for control is the bedfellow of perfectionism, and it's deeply rooted in our psyches. If we get things right, then we're reliable enough to be worthy of love and acceptance by the tribe. And so we chase the ever moving target of perfectionism throughout our lives - always just out of reach, never quite attainable, but close enough to make it consistently intoxicating.

The problem is that the hamster wheel of perfectionism is exhausting. The more I've sat with my historic tendency to "get things right", the more I've realised that perfectionism is the manifestation of feeling inadequate. We don't feel like we are good enough as we are, so we chase some imagined target of external accomplishment which promises to change how we feel about ourselves, and will finally make us worthy of love and acceptance.

Enough is enough.

Perfectionism is a compensation that ultimately does nothing but reinforce the beliefs that sparked its existence in the first place. And so the vicious cycle continues - chasing an ever moving target, trying to solve a problem rather than dissolving the idea that there was a problem to begin with.

A friend, Matthew Leaver, gave some great advice to my brother-in-law a few years ago just before he became a father:

"It's important not to be a perfect parent, your kids need to see you grappling with your own humanity."

Being a perfect parent is impossible - it doesn't exist. Rather than trying to be perfect, and then hiding your imperfection from your kids, your kids need to see you making mistakes, and grappling with your humanity openly. By modelling this for your children, it gives them permission to grapple with their own humanity. When they inevitably make "mistakes" in their lives, they won't feel like they need to hide those mistakes in the shame closet. Rather, they will have seen a healthy grappling with the perfectly imperfect state of being human modelled by their parents, and they know that it's okay for them to also make mistakes, to share those mistakes, and to learn from those mistakes.

The example here is centred around parents, but I would argue that the same principle applies in your role as a friend, partner, colleague, sibling - everywhere. When others see you grappling with your humanity openly, it gives them permission to do the same.

Perfectionism leaves no room for our humanity, and what are we if not perfectly imperfect humans?


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