Monday, May 11, 2015

The Cost of Perfectionism

Today I was thinking of shame and perfectionism, two sides of what I think are the same coin of pride, the reliance on self at all costs, and sometimes the idolization of the self. 

I was thinking of the woman who had just gotten back from a trip late the night before, had to be at a gathering all morning the next day with her children, and when the children were hungry for lunch she had nothing to offer them except crackers and some peanut butter, which she told them in low tones was because their pantry was empty and she'd not yet been to the store.  I felt that she said this with a bit of shame in her voice, as though no one else suffers from 'late-night-empty-pantry' syndrome. 

I feel very good when I am on top of my domestic duties and the pantry is stocked, the children are in perfect clothes, the beds are made, the checklist has lots of checks, dinner is all planned, and I just blow-dried my hair. 

Can I feel as good when circumstances are not as pretty?  What about when we need groceries and are eating 'creative' meals until I can find the time to get to the store?  What about when the children dress themselves in creative ensembles? What about when one child forgets to make a bed and the other wets their bed?  What about when the checklist is just reflecting back my failures, dinner overwhelms me (this happens sometimes--with a gluten free eater and a vegan comprising 50% of our household this can be challenging!), and my hair looks bad even in a ponytail? 

I have tried to analyze what makes me anxious and upset and it is often tied to messes and disorder.  This is because on a tangible level I love tidiness and order, and on a meta-level, I love control.  I want to control many things--my environment, my home, my appearance, my feelings, my organizational systems, my children, my checklist, what people think of me. 

This last thing is the deadliest.  The fear of people and what they will think if I do or say something, or if I fail to do something, is toxic.  Because as a person of faith my audience is really just the One who tells me to live a radically different life than the life the world offers me.  And sometimes when I choose the best things, I forgo the good things.  I love to visit spotless homes, for instance, but sometimes I wonder at what cost they are spotless. I know in my own home with young children that when *everything* is perfect all at the same time, someone has paid the price.  My mental and physical energy might be zapped (with nothing left for my creative life! or rest!) or I have ignored my children all day.  (When I had my oldest child, my grandmother--an immaculate housekeeper--told me "if you have young children and a spotless house, you are not doing your job!"  She was right.  Yet the world tells us we must "do it all" and keep up that charade day after day.....)

Years ago in college a friend of mine asked "can you imagine waking up every morning and putting on a mask, hiding who you really are all day long?"  When we are motivated by shame, perfectionism, fear of man, we trade our authentic selves for masks.  Our souls suffer.  The world suffers because we are not offering what is real.  The spiritual gifts we are uniquely given as humans become consumed by maintaining a cultural ideal. The energy that it takes to maintain the 'image' is energy that could help change the world.  

I write this because sometimes the internet only shows the best (or, in the news headlines, the worst!). I was thinking of this today and felt a little alarmed that perhaps my blog is too 'edited.'  I love domesticity but I am desperate for truth.  If anyone reads this blog I want her yoke to be lighter, not heavier.  

When people come to my house to have tea I know they leave refreshed and happier (they tell me so!) and it is not because they are presented with a daunting ideal of perfection. I like pretty tea cups, cut fresh flowers, and real conversation.....I think people like my house because they can take off their masks!  Let us all reject perfectionism in favor of authenticity. 

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