The drive to perfection is learned very early in one’s childhood as a misconception that if we are “perfect” we will be loved. But in fact, perfection is a shame based drive. It removes one from the moment, reduces playfulness and feeling free. It has no limits. The drive goes into infinity, floating without boundaries, a very different experience from excellence. Excellence is fueled by enjoyment. Perfection is fueled by fear.
The need for perfection can sometimes signal the need for constant self-evaluation and the almost obsessive drive to defend one’s self against comparison. This shuts off all creativity. It also discounts feedback from others that might counter one’s pre-determined experience; they can only hear the negative and dismiss the positive. It cements the inability to trust one’s instincts because they are undermined by the drive to finally get it “right.”
Perfection driven people can never be “wrong.” They hold themselves to a rigid standard and are intolerant of having any flaws. Their environment is meticulous and you will never see a coffee cup in the sink. They are hypersensitive to any changes around them, always living in the fear mode. Another clue is that they can be unforgiving and unwilling to let go, afraid that somehow forgiving someone is to admit self-defeat and would require tolerance, a bending of the “rules.”
A child’s entire focus, when perfection bound, is on the performance and robs them of the joy of the process. The activity is external, visible and quantifiable. Perfection is a soul-less monster; no matter how perfect one thinks the action is, they are never, never satisfied. Nothing is ever good enough. There is no rest for the weary. It is a treadmill never to be walked away from. Excellence and perfection are not the same.
Tanya’s drive for perfection bordered on obsessive-compulsive (OCD). She came from a family that was very sports focused and less attentive to her other needs. She was extremely competitive in soccer, basketball, and softball and she won constantly. Tanya connected the accolades with affection, but the focus was on her accomplishments and not on her attempts. Winning was everything, but she always felt empty.
When I met Tanya, she was dating a man she was absolutely crazy about, but could not take him seriously because he was shorter than her. “Not marriage material,” she told me. We were able to piece together that him being shorter made her feel as if she were on a figurative pedestal. When he looked up at her she literally felt as if he could not see her clearly, ergo, he could not see her for who she really was on the inside. Just like the trophies in her bedroom, he could see what she had accomplished, but not who she was as a person. Gaining that understanding freed the monster in the closet. Tanya is now engaged to him and wears 3″ heels when they go out.
Our lives are more about the journey than the literal challenge in front of us…and the opportunities we are given to heal.