A little thing called Perfection



"Once you accept the fact that you're not perfect, then you develop some confidence" -Rosalynn Carter

A few weeks ago I wrote a post telling you what I was reading right now. I had just started reading "Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters" by Courtney E. Martin and at that time had just started it. Before getting too much into the book I assumed it was mostly about girls struggling with perfectionism that had suffered from eating disorders. But Martin goes deeper into the soul of these perfect girls and discusses that she is not necessarily talking about starving for food.

I was compelled to write this post to tell you how astounded I was when Martin described who this "perfect girl" really is. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when the words on the page described me almost 100 percent exactly. Did Courtney Martin secretly know me? I doubt it, but I think she knows this girl so well because she was one and knew so many that were. And so do I.

Here are some quotes from her book describing who these girls are that grew up being told "they could have everything", but heard "You have to be everything".

Yet these perfect girls still feel we could always lose five more pounds. We get into good colleges but are angry if we don't get into every college we applied to. We are the captains of the basketball teams, the soccer stars, the swimming state champs. We are the girls with anxiety disorders, filled appointment books, five-year plans.
We take ourselves very, very seriously. We are the peacemakers, the do-gooders, the givers, the savers. We are on time, overly prepared, well read and witty, intellectually curious, always moving.
We are living contradictions. We are socially conscious, and anti corporate, but we still shop at Gap and Banana Republic.
We are relentless, judgmental with ourselves, and forgiving to others.
We must get A's. We must make money. We must save the world. We must be thin. We must be beautiful. We are the anorexics, the bulimics, the overexercisers, the overeaters. We must be perfect. We must make it look effortless.
We grow hungrier and hungrier with no clue what we are hungry for. The holes inside us grow bigger and bigger.

I spent much of my 20's wondering what the hell was wrong with me. I had so much ambition, so much going for me, but couldn't figure out why my head was spinning out of control all the time. I was in all honesty, furious when I was diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder, thinking it was a flaw in my persona. I wanted to hit my therapist in the face for telling me, then my general practitioner for echoing her diagnosis. Medication helped and I got over it; the stigma and the disorder.


I'm still trying to figure out where it came from. My parents never put any unnecessary pressure on me like I had seen in other girls. Perhaps it was the validation for doing things well. I have some idea that it was for me, and I think many, just the personality we were born with. And perhaps the generation. I don't know for sure just yet.

As I embark on parenting, it's very important to me to not pass on any of these perfectionistic traits to my children. When I was pregnant with my son (he's almost 2 now) I stumbled across a book called "Freeing Our Families From Perfectionism". I flipped through it and came to a check list of personality traits common to people who suffer from perfectionism. Some of them are:

Overcommited
Competes fiercely
Always does last minute cramming
Fear of appearing stupid
Fear of being rejected
Fear of appearing incompetent
Ashamed of having fears
Discouraged easily
Guilty about letting others down
Constantly comparing his/herself to others
Frequent stress and anxiety

Again, I looked around because I thought someone had followed me and wrote a book about my life. I bought it and am working on being able to let it all go. It is possible. But if gone unrecognized (or ignored) it can be dangerous. If you think you may relate to any of this, I encourage you to read both books. Also, check out Dara Chadwick's blog posts "Re-defining Perfect" I can't tell you enough how much my life has changed by just recognizing this and learning to let it go.



Photo courtesy of thomashawk

4 comments:

datagirl09 said...

Thanks for this post - I recently ordered this book from Amazon and can't wait to actually read it. After reading your thoughts I think I will move this title up in my reading list.

I first had a therapist suggest that I was a perfectionist when I was in graduate school. My response to her was, "no, I'm not -- I'm not that good." To which she replied, "exactly." Reluctantly I agreed that perhaps she had a point. Although I understand what she was trying to say, and I agree that I have some perfectionist tendencies, I still seem somewhat unworthy of that adjective.

I really thought that I had vanquished the perfectionist demons, but I have noticed that they have started to rear their ugly heads once again. Your post has helped me realize beating myself up for not responding to emails immediately, taking on too many additional responsibilities with my volunteer work, and just generally feeling frazzled by having too much on my plate is my old nemesis, perfectionism.

Now - If I just knew how to get rid of this old "friend" for good...

yourlifeconnected said...

OK, I knew I was a perfectionist, but OMG. There is actually a list of symptoms!?! Well, at least I know I'm not alone in this category of people. I'm definitely going to check out both of your book recommendations.

Every Gym's Nightmare said...

Ugh- the guilt thing. It took counselling (eating disorder, long story) to get over my guilt issues, but EVERYTHING seemed to stem from that. But once I realized that looking out for myself first wasnt selfish, it was neccessary, I am a whole different woman.

Some would say Im almost selfish now, lol. kidding. i hope.

karen pery said...

I bet this is the book you were telling me about -- now I know I have to read it.

It was really easy for me to see that my oldest child is a perfectionist, but was really hard to recognize that I am too. I think the worst is that we think perfectionism is an ideal, and then we realize that it is, in fact, rather limiting.