Monday, January 21, 2008

On Perfectionism and Guilt: A Musing

Usually when I write in this blog, it's prompted by some sort of event, some tangible thing I can point to, however minute. Sometimes, I'm there in the shower and I just find myself composing a story for you all. And sometimes, a thought, a phrase, a comment, *some* idea just gets stuck in my head, and I think, I should write about that. And I don't, for whatever reason, and suddenly someone else brings it up, and later there it is again, and again...and finally I have to stop very purposefully to write, because my goodness, I get it, alright, it's in front of me in blinking NEON, for crying out loud.

A few days ago I made a new blog friend, Michie. And I must say, I love the theme for her blog, Seeking Imperfection. LOVE IT, can't get enough of it, because I SO TOTALLY KNOW WHERE SHE'S COMING FROM.
Most people think perfectionists must live the most impressive, neat, orderly lives. Ha! The ugly truth of perfectionism is just the opposite. The real truth is that, most people don't even recognize their perfectionist tendencies, because, hey, their lives are anything but perfect, right? When you're saddled with the idea that everything must be just so, you're nearly crippled by it. If you can't do whatever task is set before you in your ideal fashion, the truth is that you'd just rather not do it at all. And the more overwhelming the task becomes, the more the guilt you feel over not accomplishing it cripples you. I remember this all too well, because I lived like this for years.

I had a cute little house once. All by myself, a cute little cottage-y house, and OLD house, and I loved it so. But, you see, old houses have problems. And sometimes these problems were too much for little ol' me, but you see, I thought that I should be able to handle everything myself. So I found it impossible to ask for help. And these things that I couldn't fix, they weighed on me. And I would get depressed about that. So much so that I wouldn't want to fix the things I *could* fix, either. I let my life deteriorate, until all I could think about was escaping this lead weight, this anchor around my neck, this little adorable house that was supposed to be my home. Even now, the thought of what I let this do to me makes me tear up. Even when I could admit I needed help, even when help was offered to me, I felt like I couldn't accept until I'd fixed all the other disasters around me, I couldn't let anyone know how awful my home was, and how horrible I was at taking care of myself.

People, there was nothing wrong with me, or my house.

But it wasn't *perfect*, it had flaws, and I had flaws, and it bruised me to my core to let anyone know that.

It doesn't have to be about your house, you guys. Perfectionism can sneak in and make you feel bad about nearly anything in your life. My friend Debbie just wrote about how she feels when she leaves her husband and her girls for a trip, about how her worrying and guilt make her enjoy herself less. And I think, as women in particular, there is even more pressure on us, that somehow we must tackle everything about our jobs, our homes, our families, and be expected to do it alone. Anything less is admitting some sort of defeat. No wonder my mom used to swear she was going to run away to an island without us ;)

One way I helped myself battle the perfectionism as well as a home and a life that was making me feel so bad about myself was, of course, the sum of all human knowledge--the internet. I found And while some of the advice was not for me, and even to this day I pick and choose the way I make up my routines, the basic message really helped me. That you DON'T have to be perfect. That doing ANY thing is better than doing nothing. That, even if you have to take it bit by bit, piece by piece, 15 minutes at a time, you can accomplish anything. Flylady had me and my house well on the way to order (right about the time I got engaged and everything changed of course), and now in my new home, those same ideas help me keep on top of things. My amazing husband deserves a lot of credit as well--it's only with his support, with letting him share the burden of what I'm feeling or doing, even if it's just to cry on his shoulder, that I'm able to keep things together. I still struggle with asking for help--more than anything, really--but I'm not ashamed when I have to do so (frustrated, maybe, but not ashamed!).

One of the best things I did for myself was to establish routines. My routines are not as set-in-stone as the Flylady's, but they are there, and when I stick to them, I am amazed at how smoothly life goes. I think that's the key, too--not following someone else's routines, but figuring out what routines work for you. I make lists. List after list after list. But I don't let the lists hurt me--if I don't finish all the items on my list, they move to tomorrow's list, and I don't beat myself up over it--my lists are my suggestions for the day, not my rules, not the accomplishments I have to live up to in order to feel okay. I have to find the fun in my motivation too, which sounds so cheesy I could die just writing it, but it's true. Even if it's the crazy British ladies on TV, SOME thing out there will make me want to have a nice home, good food, and friends I can make part of my daily life. Those things make me happy, and being able to share them, without the fear of being judged for my flaws, is the ultimate accomplishment.

So, yeah, do y'all know what I'm talking about? Anybody else out there feel this way? How do you deal with things when your lives start getting the better of you?


Quirky said...

My curse is intentions. Such good intensions, so bad at follow-through. I'm with you with the list making through. I make a list of all my good intentions (and even good intentions for dear hubby...poor guy) and then after two or three months/weeks/day/minutes, I've forgotten them. Oh well. I used to really beat myself up over them, but I figure that the half a house I cleaned, or the 2 and a half weeks of exercise, or the mostly healthy meal is better than nothing at all.

Michie said...

Oh my goodness. I'm so surprised and flattered to stop by tonight and see my little blog mentioned. :) I was just telling my husband that no one is reading it - because of course I just started it but I want everyone to read it. Perfectionism! It is so nice to come across someone else who really gets what I'm going through. Maybe you can give me some tips for getting over perfectionism as I go along my journey.

Oddly enough, I've been reading a lot of the Flylady's info too lately. She has a newish book called "Body Clutter" that I read that really made me realize my perfectionist problem.

Thanks again for the plug. I'm excited to have made a new blogging buddy. :)

sunday said...

oh girl! you described it perfectly!

KatieKate said...

I was JUST GOING TO talk about FlyLady! How crazy crazy crazy.

Like you very very very.

KatieKate said...


Crockpot Lady said...

what a great post.

Debbie said...

For me, perfection is basically a day without conflict or drama, which unfortunately doesn't happen too often in my home with three daughters. However, there are moments, situations, and even hours where I find myself thinking... wow, this is the perfect _____. I listen to my girls, watch them interact with friends, hear my favorite musician on my IPOD, or even receive an email or a call from a friend.... all of these leave me feeling uplifted and happy...working toward my idea of perfection.

If our lives were *perfect*, what would we write about? Would we enjoy the pockets of pleasure as much as we do now?

Jessica, Myron and Rylie said...

hey COrt just wanted to let you know our trip has been moved to the first week of April...we had a free ticket and they wouldnt let us use it in March. Hopefully you can still catch up!