Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist: Reflections by a White Woman
I have always wanted to do the “right thing,” to be good, to please others, and to make all of the right moves on the path that is My Life. I want to make sure I mitigate all risks before I act, foresee all obstacles before I move, and come up with every possible scenario. I’ve been burned before. I know how much it hurts. And my actions, my life is something that I can control.
I am not afraid to say that I do not know something, that I do not have all the answers. When it comes to Racism and White Supremacy, I have often chosen specific ways and to speak up, those that were safe for me and did not put me at risk. I used my voice in a selective way that protected me. So, I protected the system for my own comfort, in my own way. I haven’t always made the right choice. I have messed up. And now, I find myself in a time when speaking and elevating and acting again is paramount, and I’m not sure what to do.
The other night, I engaged in a workshop on dismantling White Supremacy that had us reflect on our stress shapes, or our emotional safety nets that we embody in times of stress or personal pressure. Mine is Perfectionism. Oh boy, is my stress shape Perfectionism.
In my body, Perfectionism feels tight, like every muscle is seizing up, and I’m in a small space with nowhere to move. It feels tight in my throat, squeezing, blocking, so no life can get through. It feels like an armored heart, frozen with little emotion.
My Perfectionism induces this feeling of inaction like I don’t know what to do. Or rather what the “right thing” is to do. I don’t want to make the wrong choice. I don’t want to induce any harm. But isn’t that what’s making this all worse? I know that my silence has been an act of violence. I’m protecting something that needs to be broken. I’m avoiding doing that hard thing.
I used to think that this defense mechanism of perfectionism would prevent me from getting hurt. But as I look back on my life, I can see that it never really has. Sure, it allowed me to do well in school and helped me figure out what other people want and how to be that, but that only got me so far.
It is the extreme of what pushes me to constantly strive to be better and do better and to look for new avenues and ways of improvement. But in its extremity, it is debilitating. It means that I am always trying and disconnecting and disembodying instead of experiencing and flowing and becoming.
I confess I’m doing it even now. There isn’t a perfect way that I can show here. There isn’t a perfect way to write this piece. There’s no perfect way to practice anti-racism and look at your shit. There isn’t. There is showing up. There is committing to the work. And that is what I’m doing.
My Perfectionism is one of my weaknesses. It’s one of the reasons I stop doing the work, take a pause, not for my own mental health but in fear. I can’t be perfect and be vulnerable. I can’t be perfect and ask for help. Perfectionism is needing this work to be on “my terms” instead of showing up as I am. Flaws and all. It truly is my protection cloak, one that I am not interested in wearing any longer but am afraid to take off.
So, I am trying to let go of My Perfectionism. Then, I might actually begin to act fluidly instead of in a calculated manner. Then, I might find my life a joy to live and experience it in a way I never have before. I might become a human who lives on Earth, who wants to make (and can make) a positive difference instead of freezing and needing acknowledgment for being here.
There isn’t a right way to do life. There aren’t certain milestones I need to meet to gain happiness. I’m where I’m meant to be, in the time I’m meant to be, in the place I’m meant to be. I’m not doing this wrong. If you’re showing up and doing the work, I promise, neither are you.
There is never going to be a “right thing” to say when it comes to rejecting and standing up to White Supremacy and calling out White Privilege. However, the right thing is to say and to do something. The “right thing” is to look at yourself, at your flaws and imperfections, your privilege (we all have some type of privilege), and to do the self-work. You’re not supposed to have it all figured out. None of us are. I certainly do not.
This is the humanity of this work, the vulnerability in showing up to something your body is resisting, something you don’t want to see. The reason we are supposed to walk into the unknown again and again and again. That’s where the growth is! That’s where the excitement and wonder is! It’s over the cliff. It’s where you can’t see the ground. It’s the moment of “Holy Shit, what the hell am I doing”. It’s not in safety. It’s in the unknown.
Humans are fascinating in our desire to escape our purpose for being here on earth. We are supposed to be human. We are not supposed to be angels, spirits, or magical beings. We are supposed to be earthly. We are supposed to experience the negative, we are supposed to be flawed so that we might transmute it into positivity, into growth, the darkness into light.
We are supposed to be human. Imperfection is the point of being human. It’s not supposed to be comfortable. That’s not the point.
For through our discomfort, we grow. We cannot remain comfortable if we want to become better. We must look hard at our racism, at our sexism, at our biases and our egos and everything we do not like. And then we must decide that if we do not like it, that we are going to put in the effort to change it. And show up. Again and again and again.
For me, recovery means showing up to myself, no matter what state I might be in. It means showing up to my desire for perfection in an imperfect. It means forgiving myself for being human and giving myself permission to be human. It means honoring my desire to control in an attempt to mitigate fall out and prevent what cannot be prevented. It means having compassion for my desire to climb rather than to flow.
It means patience. Patience and patience with a little dose of more patience. And compassion, too. It means offering this love and space to myself to grow and to learn and to mess up and to be better. I will return that gift to you, too. And I hope that you give yourself that gift. That we can all give each other that gift. I am going to show up in my humanity and my humility. I hope to see you there.