ah yes. the companion of nearly every survivor of a difficult childhood: striving for perfection.
many of us, myself and pocketbrit definitely included, had parents that expected it. yet no matter how excellent our behaviour or grades, or how closely we followed the rules, it eluded us, and eludes us still.
naively, i thought i had gotten over my need for perfection; i have certainly dedicated hundreds of hours to it in previous years of therapy, and thought i had kicked the habit. recent experiences tell me that i haven’t, not even close. maybe i’ve been in denial about it. or perhaps i was distracted by loads of other bullshit that was piled atop of this base, gutteral fear, that’s certainly feasible (eye roll). but my expectations of perfection are very much here, very much hurting me, very much making things difficult again in my life.
my expectation of perfection manifests in several different ways, most notably, with a lack of tolerance for mistakes. in myself mostly, but sometimes in others (like my kiddo…ugh i hate that). when i think of where it came from, it was partly that i didn’t hear a lot about what was ‘right’ about me. if i got 98% on a test, the question was about where the other 2% went – i mean, if i was so close to perfection, why couldn’t i just go all the way? or if i had a really great soccer game or a terrific hit in baseball, there would also be feedback on the really fast runner i didn’t stop, or the one pop fly that bounced out of my glove.
i described to someone recently – my wife, maybe, or my t – how i have a really long mental list of all that i have done wrong, the mistakes i have made, and with whom. and once the list starts approaching a certain length, i get more and more squirrely, all watery on the inside, because how much more will they tolerate? i mean, i messed that thing up last week, i forgot that really important date in her life, i really fucked up that other thing yesterday, i made that stupid joke that upset her, and oh my god, what about how disappointed he was when i didn’t follow through when i was supposed to?!
my missteps keep me up at night all the time. everyone says that mistakes are okay, but i know they’re not, not really. coz if i burn through their tolerance for mistakes (which i inevitably will, coz i’m nothing if consistent in my mistake-making), they will go. they will have no choice but to leave, because what self-respecting human will put up with the shittiness that is me?! at some point, they will call it, because how crummy i am will outweigh any of the things that might be okay or decent about me.
because the truth is, i am chronically terrified of being left. despite being a grown-ass woman in my 40s, despite the fact that many people haven’t gone…all i can think of is how many people did. after 17 years with my wife, i still think (and regularly) that i am one mistake away from her throwing in the towel. i am terrified of my daughter reaching the age of 18, when she can officially, legally disown me as her mother. i know pocketbrit is going to leave me one way or another, why wouldn’t she?
and i’m aware it sounds nuts. but it’s how i feel, way deep down. and whilst triggered, this striving for perfection is even more amped up, with the added bonus of it being even less likely that i meet the unattainable goal of getting it right 100% of the time. when i’m triggered, the mind-numbing fear of the consequences of these critical mistakes is also magnified, millions-fold. and my response? is fight, flight, and freeze, all, in quick head-spinning succession.
there have been huge chunks of time lately where i’ve self-isolated to the degree that i’m convinced that the only person i can count on is my therapist. and the only reason i can count on her is because i pay her, and i’m too lost in terror to even care about how sad that is. she is the only one who i’ve been able to tell the hard stuff, the ugly horrible stuff in my head, how much i loathe myself, how scared i get. i tell her, even though i know she will leave me too, but it won’t be personal like it will be when everyone else does.
she’ll leave me because i’m not a real person in her life, and because her professional obligations to me will end at some point. she’s here because she has to be. and even though that used to hurt me so so much, that somehow feels safer and better these days. she won’t leave because i messed up too horrifically, coz like she says, people messing up is her bread and butter. she will leave because she was always going to; she is not my mother (though at times i still want to throw myself at her and plead for her to reconsider it), or my family, or my friend. she will go because that was always the deal.
when i am finally become more adult, after days straight of spinning out and triggering and retriggering myself, i know that perfection is impossible. i know that striving for perfection comes from my inner little one, who is trying so desperately to avoid feeling shame and blame and judgement from others, like brene brown says. i know it’s coz i have the core belief that i am bad, not that i’ve done something bad. that i am a mistake, not that i made one.
and from this adult place, i know i can’t go on this way, i can’t go on feeding the illusion of perfection. it keeps me alone and lonely and disconnected. it keeps me walled away and prickly and inaccessible. it is the conviction of a little one for whom those fears were the reality, long ago, but i’m big now, i’m safe now, it’s not true. i can fuck up. lots and lots and lots. i am more than my mistakes. i am more than my trauma. i mean more than those things to the people who love me.
but this secure, solid adult place has been so fleeting lately, that i only have a few days at most before i’m riding the shame spiral again, dragging everyone down in my wake, berating myself mightily for landing myself here, yet again.
i am so, so tired.
this post was backdated; actually written on april 12/19
for whatever reason, the expression that came to mind was if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.
such a gentle, understanding, kind thing to say…not. it probably came to mind in the first place because the sentiment and its tone feel familiar. it’s something my parents would say. it’s aggressive, no-nonsense, and also, leaves little room for alternate interpretations of reality. it leaves no room for how you feel, for any context. it’s kinda like, if you have anything other than accolades for me, then shut up and get out.
when i did some research into its origins, it apparently came from US president harry truman, a plain-speaking guy by all accounts, who told some of his staff that if they didn’t like how he did things, they could clear out of the way for someone who did. fair enough, really. he was the boss of the country, after all.
but one interpretation of the phrase made me first flush with shame, and then anger: that if you can’t cope with something, leave the work for someone who can. and also, if the pressure is too much to deal with, if you can’t hack it, perhaps just bow out.
oh, okay. yeah, let me try that. coz you know what, i’d love to get out of the fucking kitchen and have someone else step in and deal with the aftermath of early childhood incest, neglect and trauma. please do. please cope with it for me, so i can not be such a disaster. sign me up for that.
coz yeah, i’ve had it with this heat. i’ve had it with messing up my relationships, with battling shame, with hurting others and being hurt. i’ve had it with suicidal ideation. i would be more than happy to tag out so that someone can do the work of knitting my life back together. i’m game. i’d empty my bank account for that for sure.