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“No one would ever see a drunk, passed out in the gutter, and say, ‘There lies a perfectionist!’ But that’s exactly what I was! If I couldn’t do life perfectly, then I wouldn’t bother even trying.”
These were the words of a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, describing himself before he was “restored to sanity” by the principles and practices of humility contained in the Twelve Steps.
The following comments were sent to me by a dear friend. See if they ring true in your life experience.
Perfectionism Is At the Core of Almost All Addictive Behavior
“I know it sounds like a glaring contradiction, a cruel paradox, but it’s absolutely true-most addicts are obsessed with perfection! They perceive that in order to be of any real value; to be loved and accepted, they have to be perfect. And when the pursuit of perfection wears them out, they seek escape through addiction. This then piles on the guilt and shame, and once again they clinch their fists and grit their teeth and start the whole perfection thing again-and so goes the cycle, over and over again.
I think we react so negatively and mercilessly to imperfection in ourselves and others because we have fallen for a lie that suggests there can be no allowance for learning by our own mistakes. We are constantly shaming and blaming ourselves for not being perfect and we are filled with disgust toward anything less-than-perfect about ourselves or the world around us.
If you think about it, this is really a kind of “perfection idolatry”-worshipping perfection as the only way we can be valuable, loveable or “good enough.” The irony is that this harsh and unreasonable approach to ourselves and others, only separates us from our Creator, others and ourselves. The fact is, our chance to experience imperfection in this life is exactly the way our Creator intended it to be.”
I couldn’t agree with my friend more! She is absolutely right—perfectionism often triggers and fuels addictive behavior. Many of us (I suffered with this for 30 years and I still feel the residue) believe that if we do “everything perfect” then maybe, just maybe we will be “good enough” for God and others to accept us.
When we set total “perfection” as the daily level of performance we “must” attain to be acceptable to ourselves, God and others, we set ourselves up for failure. Why? Because we have placed a rigid, unreasonable, unattainable burden on our own back that we can only bear for so long until it wears us out. And, it also wears out those around us because we often require the same level of perfection from them as well. Then, when we are exhausted–physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, our “perfectionist–all-or-nothing” attitude says, “If I can’t be perfect, then why try?” So, we seek out self-medication to help sooth our feelings of unworthiness, shame and guilt–and to simply have an outlet and get a reprieve from our internal “merciless dictator/critic.” If we don’t release in this way, we will simply collapse under all the pressure.
Then, after we escape and self-medicate (which comes in many forms including substance abuse, pornography, food, anger, depression, as well as outlets that are neutral or even healthy) we feel “guilty” for failing to pursue perfection so we start the whole process over again.
The grand key is to realize that there is only one overriding feeling we should have for ourselves and others—unconditional love. Our Creator’s love for us is completely unconditional-we cannot earn it, nor can we make ourselves unworthy of it. It is always there, unconditional and constant.
With UNCONDITIONAL LOVE as the motive and fuel for everything we do, we realize that we and all of us are in this life to learn by our own experience, by our own trial and error. And hopefully, over time, baby-step by baby-step, we are “becoming” better at choosing that is which is good; that which is light and love.
If you go back to the origins of the word “perfect,” it means “complete” or “whole.” Each of us has our own unique potential–our own place of “completeness” to be evolving toward. It is a process of making mistakes, learning from them and moving forward. In some things, it may take us 763 of the same mistake before we finally say “I get it! I’m ready to move on!” Does that make us evil, hopeless, flawed or “not one of the good ones”? Of course not-it makes us “human.” It’s called “life.”
Does all of this mean we shouldn’t try to improve. Certainly not. But, we would all do well to lighten up and be far more gentle, forgiving and compassionate with ourselves and each other. Amidst all our noble efforts to learn and grow and overcome, let’s not forget to notice and embrace all of the simple joys and wonders along the way.