Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.
Leonard Cohen (Inspired by Emerson’s quote: There is a crack in everything God has made.)
The full title for this article is “Dare to disappoint everyone, including yourself, and vanquish perfectionism, procrastination, exhaustion, and resentment.” I know it sounds like an unattainable task, but bit by bit you will progress and feel more peaceful.
Inner perfectionistic mantras, both conscious and unconscious, lead you to do many things you would rather avoid. All those “shoulds” in life, whether for yourself or others, have a nasty way of creating exhaustion and resentment.
Perfectionism just loves sparring with its sibling: procrastination. What makes perfectionism so appealing is the illusion that if you achieve some high goal, make a fortune, become famous, or fulfill anything else on your dream list you will be supremely happy while proving to everyone how worthwhile you really are. If only. Those of you dancing to the jigs of perfectionism and procrastination know all too well how achieving something is never enough. Typically, the minute you finish one goal you are on to the next.
Perfectionistic behavior is a result of your conscious or unconscious belief you are never enough and nothing you do is ever good enough. It derails almost any goodness by making you feel inadequate or only as valuable as your last accomplishment, and it prevents you from basking in the joy of completing something or fully enjoying someone’s appreciation.
Here’s an example of what I call spiritual perfectionism, just to illustrate how sneaky perfectionism can be. Two people owned a business together and one betrayed and cheated on the other for years. When the woman finally had enough she ended the association; yet, only a couple of months later, was bemoaning the fact she didn’t feel compassion for him as he was struggling with the fall-out from his choices. That’s spiritual perfectionism and an overweening desire to always do the right thing regardless of the cost to her. If you believe you are never good enough, you can torture yourself in novel ways that add insult to injury. First, you endure bad treatment; then, you lambaste yourself for not feeling compassion for the perpetrator. Clearly, no one does this on purpose, but a pattern of taking too much responsibility for others while believing you have to always be better is a hard habit to break. It can be done though, and one way is daring to disappoint yourself and others.
While much has been written about perfectionism and procrastination, or as I now like to call them: the twin torturers, I would like to suggest a novel way to overcome them. Dare to disappoint people. This is not done with malice, but from a place in you that is not yet comfortable with healthy self-care, assertiveness, and boundary setting. Of course, good therapy helps with all those issues, and more; but, while you are moseying through the fields of self-knowledge and developing more self-acceptance and self-compassion, a little dose of daring to disappoint people can work wonders.
It’s important to distinguish between what you do because you genuinely want to help and what is born from the inner demons of shoulds, musts, and have-tos. Of course, there are times when you might act from a sense of duty. For the most part, those are different. If you were trained to always show up, be super responsible, and never disappoint anyone, pay attention to how that might be limiting you. Often, the habit of putting yourself last leads to burn-out and resentment; paradoxically, undermining all the wonderful things you did to be useful, kind, or helpful.
It’s also freeing to allow other people to disappoint you without damning them. Everyone will fall short of your expectations sometimes, and you will fail to meet theirs. Of course, if you notice a pattern of someone continually disappointing you it is probably time to take action. That action depends on how much you value the relationship balanced against how irksome you find their behavior.
Last but not least, dare to disappoint yourself and others. Disappointing others feels disturbing until you make peace with your own imperfection and learn to relax into it. How? By starting to believe you are just like everyone else: fallible and human. Striving to be perfect is unattainable and dooms you to feel bad about yourself as you can never measure up to those lofty ideals. Disappointing yourself is a wonderful opportunity to practice self-forgiveness. Of course, there is nothing to forgive yourself for if you have truly come to believe the goal is unconditional self-acceptance, not perfection.
Paradoxically, by setting an intention to take the best care of yourself by nicely saying no to things that really won’t make you happier, and accepting your human fallibility, you will have more love, patience and compassion for others. When you continually deplete yourself by saying yes to every request you end up full of resentments. That doesn’t serve you or anyone else.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang