Perfectionism is a strange phenomenon. One of my favorite sayings is: Could it be that I don’t think I am a perfectionist because I am in fact a perfectionist? The implication of course is that perfectionists never actually achieve perfect – simply because it is not actually achievable. And of course the question arises: perfect in whose opinion? And you can’t meet everyone’s expectations and therefore their opinion on perfect.
So, if perfectionism is all about people pleasing, then it is most likely linked to a desire for peace and harmony and ultimately managing uncertainty, thereby being a form of risk management, albeit extreme. So extreme, that the preventive controls put in place get stronger and stronger and increasingly monitored.
Such controls can lead to state of “bloody-well-leave-me-alone-to shrink-in the shadows”. The status quo will never be disrupted that way. The shrinking will only continue to like “el amante menguante” in Almodovar’s “Talk to Her”, until he gets swallowed up – albeit in his favorite place (watch it – you’ll understand…).
My favorite Marianne Williamson quotation – also mentioned by Nelson Mandela in one of his famous speeches – is “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light and not our darkness that most frightens us.”
Why? Perhaps because we raise expectations – whether of ourselves or those around us. We risk being put on a pedestal, expected to carry the family honor, expected to make up for a partner’s past relationship mistakes, expected to prop up the inadequacies of others.
The quotation continues: “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?” Sure I can be. Sure I know it sometimes. But I know that I can’t “be” that all the time. And if I make a mistake, it haunts my nights and torments my days. I I fail, I disappoint, If I disappoint, I become inadequate – to the person with the expectations raised higher and higher. And so, as the expectations get raised, I become more risk averse. Expectations are more grandiose and I am less verbose. And then the something I represented becomes outgrown. And I continue to maintain the outgrown expectations. And what I represent becomes…inadequate.
Saved only by a sudden burst of indignation at the hard work, the tortured days, the tormented nights, the sacrifices. If the spark of indignation is sufficiently bright, it will transition to anger (the positive kind if channeled correctly!) And anger will fan the flames and burn this barrier of perfectionism down. Pyrotechnics for perfection, Burn this mother down. All you have to do is make me angry. Because after all: Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate – perhaps because we already know that we are not.