A Critical Juncture

I am a recovering perfectionist.

In “A Skin Horse Awakening”, I wrote about my perfectionism, and what I believe the genesis of this “ism” to have been in my life. (Or perhaps I should say “who.”) I don’t believe I was born with the affliction of perfectionism.

Let me walk this back. Perfectionism is bandied about a great deal these days. People jokingly refer to themselves as a perfectionist, and we all think things like “Oh, they work really hard to get things right,” or maybe that they are a bit anal (as in detail-oriented,) maybe a little bit OCD.

According to Wikipedia, Perfectionism, in psychology, is a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting high performance standards, accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.[1][2] It is best conceptualized as a multidimensional characteristic, as psychologists agree that there are many positive and negative aspects.[3] In its maladaptive form, perfectionism drives people to attempt to achieve an unattainable ideal while their adaptive perfectionism can sometimes motivate them to reach their goals. In the end, they derive pleasure from doing so. When perfectionists do not reach their goals, they often fall into depression.

When I say that I don’t believe that I was born a perfectionist or with a perfectionist gene, I am saying that I learned to be hyper-self-critical. I guess maybe perhaps you could argue that my being extremely sensitive is genetic, and therefore in a way that part of my perfectionism is genetic, as in I am extremely hard on myself and yet I am very sensitive to feeling like I am being criticized…maybe that being “so sensitive” is genetic?

If such a thing even exists. I can never know another’s internal experience, what life feels like for them through their nervous and other systems. I can only know my own.

So really, how can anyone, from my family (“You’re too sensitive!” “You are so sensitive.” “Don’t be so sensitive!”) to psychologists/people we label experts at such things be able to say that someone is “highly sensitive” or whatever? What do they mean? Are they really saying we are very emotional? More emotional? What does that even mean?

(I think perhaps it means that they are uncomfortable with our amount of feeling so they label us as “highly sensitive.” A label to explain away their discomfort.)

And if someone doesn’t “feel life”the way I or someone else labeled sensitive does, are they “insensitive” or unfeeling? Just because they do not seem to experience life the way I do, they are less sensitive? You see what I mean? (It is somewhat crazy-making for me, actually.)

Anyhoo. Perfectionism. Not genetic, in my humble opinion.

I learned to be hyper-critical of myself and to expect extremely high standards of performance from myself. I learned to care deeply and to depend greatly on what I thought others’ were thinking of me. To value other’s evaluation of me above all else, especially my own.

This relationship to myself and the world and myself in the world was learned. I learned it from a master, my father. I am not sure where he learned it. I am quite sure he suffered as much from it as I have. I am also sure that he had great regret later in life around the price of his untreated perfectionism on his relationships with himself, the world and the people he loved.

I am so grateful that I am in recovery around this. I do not have to suffer at my own hands anymore, or cause undue suffering in my loved ones out of my perfectionism.

One of the most tremendous sources of help around this for me has been the work of Brene Brown. You may have heard of her TED Talk on Vulnerability. If you have never watched it, I highly recommend it. Seriously, stop reading this and go watch it! Then come back ; )

She has been on my mind the past few days as she posted on Facebook from Houston, where she was volunteering her clinical services, making a plea for donations of clean, new underwear for those recovering from the hurricane. First things first, please take a view.

Here are three ways to give NEW (still in package) underwear. Please keep in mind that we need a variety of sizes for men, women, boys, and girls, including XXL.

1. https://www.amazon.com/…/2O89ZX93O…/ref=nav_wishlist_lists_1

2. Collect new, packaged underwear and mail it to the address below. It’s our local Hillel and they are collecting for us. This is a really great neighborhood or school project. If you’re purchasing, we recommend Hanes or Fruit of the Loom. UFE doesn’t process or give out anything but underwear!

Undies for Everyone
1700 Bissonnet St.
Houston, TX 77005

3. Give cash and Undies for Everyone will purchase wholesale: https://secure.lglforms.com/form_e…/s/uFpr61ITEItxPeN4Lo9zpA

Brene is an amazing woman. I could write blog after blog about her and how she inspires me. It has been through her work that I have had true shifts around my perfectionism.  I mean, I could understand before that I was one, but then what? What do I do to help myself out of it? Through it? She defines perfectionism a bit differently, and that difference has made all the difference in my being able to make shifts and heal. She defines it so:

Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: “If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”

She writes further:

Perfectionism is defeating and self-destructive simply because there is no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal. Additionally, perfectionism is more about perception – we want to be perceived as perfect. Again, this is unattainable – there is no way to control perception, regardless of how much time and energy we spend trying.

Perfectionism is addictive because when we invariably do experience shame, judgment, and blame, we often believe it’s because we weren’t perfect enough so rather than questioning the faulty logic of perfectionism, we become even more entrenched in our quest to live, look, and do everything just right.

Feeling shamed, judged, and blamed (and the fear of these feelings) are realities of the human experience. Perfectionism actually increases the odds that we’ll experience these painful emotions and often leads to self-blame: ‘It’s my fault. I’m feeling this way because I’m not good enough.’

To overcome perfectionism we need to be able to acknowledge our vulnerabilities to the universal experiences of shame, judgment, and blame; develop shame resilience; and practice self-compassion.

When we become more loving and compassionate with ourselves and we begin to practice shame resilience, we can embrace our imperfections. It is in the process of embracing our imperfections that we find our truest gifts and strengthen our most meaningful connections.” B. Brown (2009).

Wow. I mean, just yes. And yeah, this is a daily practice. It is a struggle one day, a breeze for the next three days, and then the shit hits my internal proverbial fan and it feels like I am at day -4. And then I feel free of it again. But Wow and Yes. And I’ll take that over interminable suffering in the depths of the hell of my own mind being run by unchecked and uninformed perfectionism.

If you know of what I speak, I recommend her work and any of her books.

It is a lifelong process, but it is truly gratifying to find true relief.

Oh, what a journey it is, this coming to life. This learning to relax into all of the things I used to hate so about myself. To even begin to embrace and yes, even find love for all my parts. Especially the ones most imperfect.

To pull my own self down off the self-built marble column I had constructed so long ago into the real world where I can be with others, be a fully-fleshed human being among human beings. To smash the statue-like full body persona I had so carefully made and let the flawed imperfectly beautiful person I am start to live and breathe and love.

 

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: critical

That Man Behind the Curtain

So what? So what if I am not up to “par?” What if I am “substandard?”

What the hell does that even really mean?

When I dissect the judgements I have revolved my life around, it is as if I pulled the curtain back to reveal the sweaty, little man who is the voice of the Great Wizard of Oz.

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

There is a Them I have made into a kind of God.

Others against whom I have constantly measured my worth, my performance, my right to be here.

Others who often know no better than what they’ve been taught to believe by the Them that they also believed was The Great Oz.

I’ve pulled the curtain back, and I see what I have been buying into.

It is time to ask different questions. Instead of “What’s wrong with me?” “What can’t I be more like that?” I now ask:

“Less than” …less than what?
“Unworthy of” …as decided by whom?
“Inferior” …to who’s idea of superior?

The standard. Who’s standard? Who sets the standard? The industry? Who is that exactly?

What if in trying too hard to live up to The Standard I overlook or even destroy something that could be truly extraordinary?

Pardon my French, but it has all been one big mind fuck if you ask me.

Well, the fuck stops here.

I belong where I say I belong.

I determine my own value.

I’ve been using the wrong gauge.

I’ve been using the wrong measuring stick, and I’ve been measuring myself against the wrong things. Random ideas I either imagine or have had impressed upon me by others.

No more.

I have another gauge within, one that runs truer than any other, and just like Dorothy’s power to go home again ended up being with her all along, it has been with me all along.

It is my own heart. It is my own unique blend of desire, creativity, will, love, joy, bliss, determination, work, craft and passion.

I belong because I am. And I am. Worthy.

There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word prompt: substandard

Lust Life

Much of my adult life has been about coming to terms with lust.

Having grown up in a fairly conservative family with mainly Protestant roots, I learned early on to deny and repress my lust: for life, for sex, for fame, for love, for food.

So much so that I lived a kind of double life from my teens into my twenties.

I hid many behaviors that all revolved around my various appetites. Somewhere in my somewhat stunted emotional development, I had learned that being seen as having a need (be it physical or otherwise) was weak, unattractive.

And so I learned to pretend I did not have them.

And yet, at the same time, I also had a very strong need to be seen as a sexual object. (See Sexual Healing, my previous post on this issue.) This presented quite a war within me. I desperately wanted to be seen and treated like a sexually desirable woman – that was sort of the ultimate need. At the same time, I had shame and embarrassment around this and had strong messaging that that was bad, and that I should be a good girl with no sexuality, appetites, strong opinions or feelings.

And so I pretended to be one one way while in secret I acted in other ways.

I invested a great deal of time into creating the illusion that I was chaste, a normal eater, and had  a very neutral opinion on just about everything. I monitored my emotions and watched myself around people, carefully choosing mannerisms and tones to project a good girl.

Meanwhile, I was living quite another kind of life, a life I hid from my family, my friends. A life of appetite and lust and danger.

There were certainly angels watching over me. I was often in the wrong places at the wrong time. Somehow, I survived.

At a certain point in my twenties, the jig was up, as they say.

My psyche demanded that I heal the split, and I began the process of recovering wholeness again.

Of uncovering my own genuine appetites from a place of love, curiosity and acceptance. Of letting go of the urge to keep my appetites hidden.

I began a process of embracing of my true nature and wants and needs as beautiful reflections of my own humanity. I began the shedding of the shaming nature that I inherited.

An unlearning of the social pressure that happens in middle school to put a damper on enthusiasm, to keep a lid on want to look cool.

I learned to let myself eat as I really wanted to in front of others.

I learned to let myself be seen trying, excited, wanting, sexy, hungry, angry, hopeful, happy, disappointed, frightened, messy, unhappy, empty, full, vulnerable, awkward, lonely, blissful.

I learned to let myself be seen. As I really am.

Today I value the self-honesty that I live from. Truth is of huge importance to me.

Though I am still in awe of the capacity I had within my own psyche to maintain such a dichotomy the way I did – that I could compartmentalize two such distinct worlds at once – I am so grateful that that is just a chapter in my story.

Today, I have one world with many parts: parts that co-mingle and bring me great joy in their diversity.

I celebrate my appetites, I revel in my enthusiasms and passions.

I love my lust. It is what lets me know I am human. And alive.

So today, I try to wear my lust like a smile.

 

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: lust

 

Dormant Child

I hear you now

From within, so deeply hidden you had no chance of being heard until now

I thought maybe you’d flown away with the night and my innocence

Or maybe you’d been crushed by the weight of his body on mine

I held a funeral for you inside and accepted the loss

And then, one day, there you were; and at first

I could not recognize you through the warp and woof that my soul became

 

Here you are now

And I found you, and though you were unrecognizable to me

I knew and loved you at first sight with every fiber of my being

I’d never seen anything more heart-breakingly beautiful in my life

I drew your little burned body into my arms, your flesh black and peeling

Raw, red skin angering through the seared pain of the past

I loved you until the dead flesh fell away, until you pinked up and began to flourish

In the fore of my heart I let you pick your own room and decorate it pink and kitty cats

Let the other girls invite you to play and read you stories

I gave you hot baths and fed you warm milk and cookies, told you I was putting you first now

And I realized that you were more me than any me I had ever been before or would ever be

 

Now you are here

And you are my everything, you are the key, finally – the center of us all

You carry my truth, my play, my freedom, my deepest self-song

 

Now I am here

The parent who will protect you from that kind of hurt ever happening again

The mother who will love you like you are my everything

The woman who sings a self-song so beautiful it makes me cry to hear it

 

I hear you now

 

For Suzanne, with Thanks & Love

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: dormant

 

 

 

 

To Do’s Today

Here is what I can do today.

I can create:

Joy. By Taking time to find it in my body and then give it to the world in the form of smiles and kind interactions with others.

Peace. By listening and respecting others, staying unattached to needing them to agree with me or see things my way. By refusing to war with my self or anyone else.

Art. By choosing to use my body, voice, mind, emotions, instincts, words, will, expertise and talent to create in whatever ways I can. I can do this regardless of whether I get an audition or booking, or am in a show or film or not. Especially in today’s world, I can create art and share it daily, for my self and others.

Positivity. I can choose to meditate, practice gratitude, use mantras and affirmations and select an intention to guide my day. As many times a day as I need to, I can tap into the ever-abundant source of this that is within me. Every moment contains the choice of love or fear.

Justice. I can stay active politically for the causes I support. I can use my voice, body and energy as needed to take action. I can speak up when I see injustice.

Equality. See above. 

Beauty. I can allow my spirit to shine freely from within. I can reflect back to others the beauty I see within them, encouraging theirs to flow freely.

Comedy. I can listen for the clown (my unsocialized 4 year old) within, and work with her impulses instead of tamping them down. I can laugh at myself and at funny things and share that with the world. 

Music. I can hum and sing and make up silly songs in the grocery line. I can sing at the top of my lungs for the sheer joy of it. Or I can create art from the music in me.

Excitement. I can go against the grain of the social conditioning that started in junior high school and begin to allow my enthusiasm for life to thrive and be seen. I can choose excitement over “cool” and feel my own aliveness flow into the world. Maybe I will spark enthusiasm in others.

Intimacy. I can choose to be vulnerable with myself and with others, and perhaps help them to become vulnerable as well. Vulnerability may well be key to saving the world.

That’s what I can do today.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word: create

Hope Springs

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: crisp

Crisp twenties so new that you have to separate them from themselves

Freshly cleaned laundry, folded neatly

Dry cleaned sweaters in plastic protective wrap

Kittens or puppies sleeping on or near each other

Baby animals, period

The release of the receptacle handle after returning library books in on time

A blazing sunset that stops you in your tracks and out of the fray of the day

A child’s unrestricted peal of laughter

The rise and fall of a sleeping baby’s belly

The moments just after re-organizing my purse

How gum tastes in the earliest moments it is in your mouth

A blank spiral-bound notebook or college-ruled yellow pad of paper

Walking out of Starbucks with that little green stick plugging up the hole, keeping the heat in

Discovering urban art in unexpected places

Budding flowers

A plant’s leaves reaching towards the light

Sharing eye contact and/or an experience with a stranger on the train, in passing on the street or in a line anywhere

Seeing someone drop trash, thinking they don’t care, and then seeing them pick it up and put it in a receptacle

Feeling heard after a grueling session with any company’s customer service on the phone or on-line, coming to a solution that actually feels fair and human

Those little plants fighting to sprout in-between cracks in the sidewalk

Spreading tree branches that snake between fences, around posts, and survive

Same-sex toddlers holding hands un-selfconsciously, line partners as they pass with their class on the streets of NYC

 

#itsthelittlethings #findinghopewhereyoucan