(You can read Part One here. )
I grew up feeling like I had to be perfect somehow, or everyone would be disappointed. It wasn’t even everyone else now that I think about it, it was me. Because the amount of self-flagellation I would do when I fell below my own ridiculous self-imposed bar was far, far more severe than any punishment or any “I’m disappointed in you’s” I could ever receive.
And now, all these years later, I’ve had to face the fact that it hasn’t changed. I haven’t changed. I was recently talking to a friend about why: why one person would hold herself to such an impossibly high standard, and another (even with the same parents) would not. The ultimate question of nature vs nurture. We decided that it’s probably both… a combination of some innate personality trait that went a little haywire, and a product of how a person was raised.
But at this point, the “why” doesn’t matter. Because it just… it just is.
And can I tell you something else? It is EXHAUSTING living that way. I put myself in these self-imposed exiles, and I cope in a myriad of unhealthy ways. And I can’t breathe, and I can’t think, and I can’t see anything except the box around me. And I treat people poorly (which of course makes me feel terrible because I know I’m not a terrible person) because I’m treating myself poorly, and then I think, “I’ve been in therapy for EIGHTEEN FREAKING MONTHS, and I’m still not over all of this? Why am I not over all of this?” And then I think, “Wow. It takes a special kind of failure to fail at therapy.” And then I feel bad for being so hard on myself, instead of gentle on myself, which of course just makes me spiral further into my self-loathing. And around and around and around I go. I know it’s not all true. I know it’s just old stories, old tapes playing in my head (I learned that from my therapist, on one of the days I wasn’t, well… failing at therapy.)
I’ve decided I don’t want to do that anymore.
I don’t want to keep avoiding all the things I’m bad at. I don’t want to unreasonably beat myself up for all my mistakes. I don’t want to keep punishing myself for something long after that something’s been apologized for and forgiven. I don’t want to take ALL the blame for all of the things at all of the times. I don’t want to continue to hate myself, like genuinely, literally, hate myself just because my College Algebra class is so difficult for me. (“What is wrong with me? How can I not even do a basic math class? How am I going to do the really difficult upper level classes that will come later? What about the science classes? Am I too old? Am I just not intelligent enough? Should I just cut my losses and quit now? I should probably just cut my losses and quit now.”)
I just don’t want it anymore.
My therapist tells me that perfectionism is really the other side of the same coin as narcissism. Which offended me at the time – because I spent a lot of the last 18 months being offended, another thing I continue to beat myself up about – but makes perfect sense if you think about it. What makes me so special? Everyone else is allowed to make mistakes, everyone else is allowed to have strengths and weaknesses, everyone else is allowed to be HUMAN … and I’m … what? A superhero?
And it’s not like I haven’t had these realizations before. I have. But usually I have them after I come out of a depression, when the sun is all shiny and the world is all squeaky, and I’m no longer viewing things through the haze of my black-tinted glasses. I’ve never actually had these come-to-Jesus moments in the middle of a depression. Like right smack dab in the middle of the muck and the mire.
So I’m trying something new.
Allow me to (re)introduce myself: I’m Jen.
I kill every houseplant that every comes into my house (but I have two at the present time so I’m still trying.) I can’t snorkel because I get freaked out and I breathe too hard and my chest feels like it’s going to explode (but if ever given the opportunity, I’d suck it up and try it again.) I really struggle with math and puzzles and technical stuff (but I’m allowed to struggle with stuff, and it will give me that much more of a sense of accomplishment when I make some sort of stride.)
I have a terrible sense of direction. I burn a lot of things in the kitchen. I take things way too personally. I have a tendency to sabotage relationships. I’m an avoider. I trip over my words when I speak.
But I’m good at some stuff too!!!
And the stuff I’m bad at? I can get better (indeed, the things in the realm of personal relations can and should continue to be addressed). But the rest of it? Who cares if I’m bad at bowling? Who cares if I never did get the hang of stopping at the bottle of the ski-slope and basically just … fall .. to end my descent? Who cares if Mike gets triple my score at Scrabble (if I’m being conservative)?
I want to be able to honestly say that I’m willing to do things badly. To embrace the fact that I royally suck at something, and do it anyway, and then get better (or not!). I want to be able to make a fool of myself, and not let it ruin my day – or my week, or my life. I want to be able to screw up, and apologize, and then leave it the hell alone. I want to be able to dive into life, like really DIVE, and not worry that I’ll get water up my nose, or that the top of my suit will fall off, or that I’ll get one of those seaweed things wrapped around my legs. I want to dive into life full of its messiness, and its imperfections, and its foibles, and its beauty. My God, it’s so beautiful!
I feel like I’ve missed it sometimes. Because I’ve worried. TOO MUCH. I’ve worried too much and I’ve sequestered myself too much, and in a sick and twisted way, I’ve comforted myself with the very thing I was running from: self-loathing. Like if I did it first, no one else could beat me to it, and screw you, you don’t get to call me out on all my stuff because I’m already doing it in spades, and you don’t get to make me feel bad about myself, because no one could ever make me feel more badly about myself than I already do.
I. Don’t. Want. To. Do. That. Anymore.
But it’s easier said than done! That’s my answer for everything. It’s not like I can write a tidy blog post, make a big proclamation, and ta da! All better. Because it doesn’t really work like that. But what if…. what if it did? What if it just took a decision? What if I just tried? What if, instead of pondering the “what if”s, I just did it. Or YOU just did it.
Just stepped out of the box and into the light. I’ve tried it the first way. For 43 years I tried it the first way.
And living in the light looks a lot more fun.