My hunger for perfectionism came from many places. Primarily, it came from my longing to be wanted and my longing to belong.
The reality of this, is that it also lead me to a long time partnership with shame. I had a knack for hiding this. I was great at seeming to be so open and genuine, that nobody (except every roommate I ever had) could or would question how “real” I was truly being.
You see, I was always striving to be the “good one.” The one that friends’ parents begged their children to be around (and inevitably the children begged the opposite). The child that was going to “save the world” and ignite people with fear that pushed them to “believe” in more.
While I am being rather extreme with this depiction of myself, I have to be, because it was my hearts reality.
My hearts reality was a constant striving to be a pageant queen and Bible study leader, a mentor and cheer captain, the best at anything I set my mind to (which meant my mind had to be limited) and completely captive to my adoration of looking perfect.
Sure, some of this may have come with what I observed in church. Mostly, it came from the fact that I am human and always on a journey. Because that is just it… a journey.
All of us are on it. All of us are in it as imperfect human beings. That is the beauty to me… the glory of our differences (more on that here).
The inevitable, is that we all have a different journey, because I believe we are all created uniquely. I believe our contribution in this world is so specific, that my gap of knowing nothing about the scientific intricacies of this world, of us, of our depth filled history and political climate – is in fact covered by someone elses' gifts. I LOVE THAT. I FREAKING LOVE IT.
I didn’t used to. I used to have to be it “all.” But now, I celebrate not being that. That I get to be this human that makes mistakes and learns from them. A human that is complete without being filled with even a shred of what I will be filled with a year from now. A person committed to learning and not to perfection. To celebrating the vast difference and loving every second.
A lot happened when I stopped glorifying my perfectionism. It was a harsh reality when I realized it. This realization came when my therapist asked; “Carissa, what if you did not live up to these expectations I have written down. What will you think about yourself and life and how will you view God? How will you view your relationships with others?”
At that point, I viewed myself as helpless.
She made an image of a totem pole. On that totem pole I had hundreds of things I had stacked on it that I felt I needed to live up to. Then she also gave me a metaphorical backpack on my back that kept me so weighed down with rocks of expectation, I could not look up to see the life happening in front of me.
These things were to be skinny, to inspire others, to get married asap, have kids asap (read more about leaving that mentality here), adopt kids, foster kids, climb that corporate ladder, give my life to hard work, spend any spare time I had in charity, be in organized ministry, spend an hour every morning praying, keep a clean house at all times, always have a cozy and decorated room to promote hospitality, be kind and encouraging, be quiet and meek (something I could never conquer), learn to cook and hopefully one day be the best homemaker I can ever be.
The list went on and on and on.
Exhausted? I was. At 24 I was just that. Tired and over life. I would have meltdown over meltdown, come home crying after work and be so sad that I just could not be everything to everyone. I WAS NOT PERFECT.
That was my saddest reality. Everyday I would wake up and wish I could do all these things.
Up until this point, I had given my therapist a list of “problems” in my life. She knew these things were actually just a distraction. They were the things I gave my effort to, because I knew that had I focused on my hearts concerns, work would have to happen and God forbid – I might have to not strive to be perfect. I might not be skinny and the most giving, clean, go getter, "good Christian"I had always been described as.
I might be seen.
After a lot of conversation, I realized I was done being in hiding and exhausted from striving to be perfect. I discovered I did value vulnerability and with that, I would have to break up with my love for perfectionism. That to truly show up fully, I would have to allow myself to be seen.
I also knew that if I was not willing to see and love myself fully, I would not allow others to do that either. So I did it, with a lot of help. I faced myself and a few things happened:
I was able to truly love and celebrate others’ differences.
I had always been an advocate for the “underdog.” I always knew this was a societal definition and not anybody’s truth. Nothing makes one person inferior to the other. The things is, so long as I judged myself for being imperfect, for not fulfilling all I thought I had to be in order to be loved – I could not value others. I could not celebrate WHO they were. I could only see that they had to be lacking. They had to also be “not enough” or else I would not be validated to continue to live, dwell and drown in my longing to be perfect. I needed motivation to be the best. The thing with that, was that others had to be less. No matter how kind I wanted to be – I could not get there whole heartedly. I needed others to not measure up.
I started to learn new things because I had to admit that I did not know it all. (SAY WHAT?!)
Asking for help was asking to be labeled weak in my book. As a person that praised moving away at 17 with just $500 in my bank account and choosing to live a life that in reality, chose me, I could not ask for help. I HAD to know it all and have it all together. God forbid people find out that I actually knew nothing. People needed me to be strong and independent, right? This made them not worry or see me as weak, right? The funny thing is, that when I started asking questions, when I admitted I am terrible at adulting and truly have no clue what I am doing – the gaps started to fill in. I saw the gifts others had, that I naturally do not and probably never will (to the degree they do at least) and I allowed for their gifts to be utilized. To see them flourish in my lack and it was then, that I saw the strengths I naturally had come to life. They were fed by others abundance and I was actually learning. The gift of knowing others’ contribution is nothing I take lightly and something I will never let go of again. We need one another.
I started doing things I had forgotten I loved to do.
I was never the best painter or drawer, so I gave up for a while. I threw in the towel since I could not excel at it like others could. Then I realized, I had given up on something I found beautiful and loved about life. I had broken off my relationship with it and decided to pursue fear instead. So I took it back, we rekindled and even though my art will probably never be deemed worthy of a museum or an exhibit hall (it just really is not aesthetically the most pleasing) it is MY art. It is my interpretation, in my own way and that is okay. It does not need to be praise worthy, it just needs to exist. My soul needs it to be done – to explore my heart in a new way throughout the process and see the beauty that none of us are exactly alike. That our interpretations are so different and unique and that we all have this incredible take on beauty and this world. It made my heart come alive and THAT is enough.
My shame was left behind.
I will start with the fact that, it still tries to rear its’ disgustingly ugly head once in a while and IT GIVES ME A PIT in my stomach. When I talk to women living a life in shame (or men, really) I walk away crying almost every time. Grieving the life I know they can’t see. The greatness that encompasses them because guess what, YOU ARE AN INCREDIBLE HUMAN BEING. End of story. I do not care what you have or have not done, or how much money you have (if you want to feel better – I will share my bank account with you). I could not care less about how much you weigh or if you are working a minimum wage job. None of this defines you and NONE of this has authority in the shame game.
You see, when I wanted to look perfect, I could not dwell anywhere but a shame filled mentality and a shame filled mentality led to only fear based decisions. I was held captive by it. I could not go anywhere without it. In a crowd of people, all I could think was; “Am I pretty enough to stand out? Do I have enough victories or a high enough status in my company to talk about? Had I gone on enough missions trips and prayed for enough people (this one gets me going on a whole other level). AM I ENOUGH TO BE HERE?”
I have always been human. I have also always been enough (I just did not know it). AND SO ARE YOU, BABE! YOU should be seen everywhere you go. Maybe you are quieter than I am, louder than I am, more educated or have no idea what you want to do in life. Regardless, you are SO worth being known and seen because YOU have a specific contribution in this world that you were created in. You fill in a gap and I am SO glad and honored you exist. But I know this truth is hard to believe, especially if you are currently or a recovering perfectionist like me. Never BEING enough. So what I started doing was…
Asking big questions.
I have so much to say about this, so it is better to read about it here.
Spoiler alert – asking questions that defied all I knew, changed me. Mostly, it made me confident in a new way. In a way that thins I said and did, I truly believed. It ushered in an ability to show up FULLY, exactly as I am in every situation.
Needless to say, it is kind of a must read.
For now, let me know how you are recovering from perfectionism? OR how you would rather not? I just love you and would love to hear ALL the details. What do they call that? Spilling the tea?
For some reason, that doesn’t sound like I am using it right.
Either way, your voice is important. Can’t wait to hear it.