Why do we try so hard to appear perfect?
Does it make us feel good? No! It's a heck of a lot of work. And it just makes us feel bad because it's not a realistic goal.
Does it make people like us more? Absolutely not. It makes people feel envious, disconnected, or even angry. It makes them feel worse about their own lives, not better. Why would they want to spend more time with someone who's "perfect"?
Is it even possible? Of course not! Who do you know who has a "perfect life"? We often think that celebrities do. But a glance at a tabloid magazine, or watching someone being interviewed by Barbara Walters, tells us otherwise.
What about someone you know personally? Think about your friends, your family, your acquaintances. I bet some of them have pretty great lives, especially if they have great attitudes - their lives can seem pretty fabulous. But "perfect"? Nope. And if you do think they have perfect lives, you just don't know them that well.
Well, the title of my blog post is kind of misleading because I'm not going to actually help you get a perfect life. But I have some suggestions that will help you get to the life that's perfect for you:
Step 1: Give up the quest for perfection
It's adding more stress to your life than it is helping you.
I know... that “perfect” image we have for ourselves is so beguiling.
What does yours look like? Mine has endless patience for her kids, a spotless house, an exciting, successful career, and is surrounded by fun, supportive friends who laugh at all her jokes.
She charms me with her smooth complexion, 15% body fat, and bright white smile. What about yours?
Don’t fall for her! She’s very high maintenance, and in the end she’ll leave your heart broken and empty.
In Dr. Brené Brown's book, The Gifts of Imperfection, she talks about the addictive nature of perfectionism:
- Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.
- Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because there is no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal. Additionally, perfectionism is more about perception -- we want to be perceived as perfect. Again, this is unattainable -- there is no way to control perception, regardless of how much time and energy we spend on trying.
- Perfectionism is addictive because when we invariably do experience shame, judgment, and blame, we often believe it's because we weren't perfect enough. So rather than questioning the faulty logic of perfectionism, we become even more entrenched in our quest to live, look, and do everything just right.
- Feeling shamed, judged, and blamed (and the fear of these feelings) are realities of the human experience. Perfectionism actually increases the odds that we'll experience these painful emotions and often leads to self-blame: It's my fault. I'm feeling this way because "I'm not good enough."
- Who am I trying to be? What’s my idea of “perfect”?
- Is this ideal realistic?
- Is it possible to be all these things at once?
Is this the example you want to be setting for your kids? I know I don’t want my kids to think they have to be perfect in order to be loved. Their beautiful, gap-toothed smiles, their mispronounced words, their preschool art... I love it all. And I’ll always love them, not just despite their imperfections, but because of them.
Another way to shift your attitude is to let go of comparisons. So what if your neighbour’s car is nicer than yours? Or your friend’s child started walking before your child did? Does that really mean they’re happier? Maybe your neighbour’s having trouble making his car payments, or your friend is worried because her child hasn’t started talking yet. Or maybe they really are happier. But I doubt it’s because of the car they drive or their child’s accomplishments. My guess is they’re happier because they spend more time feeling grateful than they do comparing.
I wrote about vulnerability about a month ago. There are so many wonderful reasons to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Without it, we can’t be authentic, we can’t truly belong, and we can’t feel worthy and loved.
In our culture, we associate vulnerability with weakness. But vulnerability is not weakness. In fact, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable requires a great deal of strength. And it builds strength. And like building strong biceps, it requires a lot of repetition to strengthen it.
Start by allowing yourself to be vulnerable with the people you trust the most. Choose people who will laugh with you about your crazy household or cry with you about the moment you lost your temper with your child. Share your stories with them and go to them when you need support.
Instead of trying so hard to be perfect (which only alienates people), let other moms see the cracks in your armour. Support them when they share their imperfections with you. This is a wonderful opportunity to connect with someone who is likely going through similar struggles. You'll find that your vulnerability will actually start attracting people to you, and you'll be able to build a strong support network.
Once you’ve done that a few times, you’ll find it easier and easier to be vulnerable. But like weightlifting, it takes constant practice to stay in shape, so continue to practice your vulnerability. Practice, practice, practice. And in this case, practice doesn’t make perfect. :)