“Perfectionism is not about doing one’s best, or about pursuing excellence…it is the emotional conviction that by being perfect, one can finally be acceptable as a person.” ~ Dr. Tom Greenspon
Whether we want to produce immaculate works of art, a flawless body, or a faultless motherhood, etc.…the fear of being anything less than perfect can relentlessly haunt us in the identities we perceive as meaningful.
Our perfectionism may derive from the outside (born into a demanding family of “winners”) and/or it may come from an internal need to prove one’s self-worth. Somewhere along the way, we link performance and success with acceptance and love. We become perfectionists to secure a sense that we are okay, that we are lovable. Believing perfection will bring invulnerability, we strive to place ourselves beyond possible reproach as we struggle to control every aspect of life. (Interactive question: which of the 6 realms am I describing?)
I once asked a woman how she felt when she relapsed from her Alcoholics Anonymous program for the first time. She replied, “It was the best thing that ever happened to me.” She finally could see herself as human- a being fated to occasional failures and mistakes. Accepting this, she relaxed her judgmental tendencies and pressures of absolute thinking. She authentically forgave herself and others in her life with greater compassion, which lead to a noticeably positive change in her character.
We must remember that perfection is an illusory concept. It is the carrot on the stick that can never be eaten. But, it is not even a good motivator, as it usually ends up fostering more dissapointment, anger and shame than it does inspiration.
We can see the truth of imperfection by observing reality. Don’t good things happen to “bad” people and bad things happen to “good” people? Don’t even the best of role models make mistakes? Scientific researchers will always include margins for error in their findings respecting the fact of nature’s transience. If reality isn’t “perfect” then why do we hold ourselves up to such unreachable standards?
Knowing this, it seems fair to lessen up the pressure with our selves and others. When we do, we can discover a cosmic irony – that the universe, and ourselves within it, is perfectly imperfect. Dr. Kamalakar Mishra, a scholar of Tantrik philosophy, states in his discussion of our limited tendencies, that “One takes oneself to be imperfect, to be lacking something, and tends to perform action in order to fulfill the lack” (p. 173). However, yogis remind us that we are already perfect in our true nature. It is our birthright to experience love and acceptance – free from conditions and circumstance.
There is nothing “out there” that will fill us “in here” and it is through radical self-acceptance of all that is supposedly good and bad about us that we can smile at the mystery of how perfect life is, just as it is. Does this mean we never make an effort to change and accept all with a rollover attitude? No. Of course not. But, when we choose to change from a place of inner peace then our efforts will not be in vein, and they will not be so short-lived.
Sustainable action is natural, relaxed and motivated by love rather than by the insecurity spectrum of perfectionism. One way that we can find this inner peace and an effective motivation to change is by recognizing the un-reality of our ideas about “perfection” and seek for the experience of life as perfectly-imperfect.
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