Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist

I feel a deja vu coming on.

I think I have called myself a recovering perfection before, years ago, and yet here I am…still recovering.

Perfectionism is no joke. Perfectionists are so busy being perfect that they can’t see how imperfect their way of thinking is, or how difficult they make things for those around them. Perfectionists are not just hard on themselves but on everyone they “care” about. In fact, that’s how we show we care…by improving our husbands, our kids, our friends, and sometimes-even strangers.

I am not sure when my perfectionism started. When I was first told that I was a perfectionist I didn’t believe it. I thought, “I never do anything perfectly.” The counselor said my response was classic.

I can actually remember the height of my perfectionism. It was Christmas 2000: Jackson’s first Christmas. I made wreaths for everyone because I wanted thoughtful gifts that saved money. I made my own wrapping paper, because I was stone-cold crazy and Martha Stewart hadn’t been arrested yet. I made ornaments, baked goods, and cards. I probably mailed over 100 cards that year, writing a personal message in each. I don’t remember Jackson’s expression when he opened his gifts. I do remember nearly drowning. I don’t mean figuratively either. I poured so much lavender in the bath that night; I fell asleep in the tub.

But that was not the end of my struggle. It continued for many years, keeping me from spending time with my kids to the degree I desired because there was always more work to be done. Some of these pressures were external; many of them were internal. Years later, I am still unraveling myself.

Here are some things I am doing to change my ways, but you will have to take a look at yourself and pray through some steps you can take:

  • I am planning less stuff to do. My days are more open and more flexible and every moment doesn’t have to be accounted for.
  • I am letting my house be messy, dusty and even letting the small piles sit for weeks at a time WHILE GUESTS COME OVER. This is HUGE. I used to power clean before letting the bug man in, and lit no fewer than 15 candles for a board game gathering. I wanted my home to be perfect. I am now forcing myself to refuse to let it be a reflection of my character or worth.
  • I am making more frozen pizzas and letting my kids fend for themselves. They are learning to cook a little, and I am spending more time hanging out with them and less time yelling at them about the kitchen. I am not letting my family fall victim to scurvy or anything. But I am often choosing time with them over photo-worthy meals. My kids are 12 and 14 and every moment with them is worth a little heartburn 😉
  • I am letting others own their messes. I still ask that the kids clean their rooms (once a week), but I am letting more stuff “slide” and am not obsessing over their crap. I have learned to CLOSE THE DOOR. Their rooms are not a reflection of my parenting.
  • I am sitting still more. I sat around in my underwear for a while today staring into space. It was grand! And the best part of my week was a two-hour nap with my hubby on Sunday. I have had more time to think, my feet aren’t constantly throbbing and I occasionally watch an episode of Downton Abbey (I am way behind so don’t spoil anything for me!)

I think God has said, “Be still and know that I am God,” at least a million times over the last year. I am learning to take this literally. I don’t plan on turning into a slithering slovenly slug whose skin grafts to the furniture, but I am enjoying the downtime and rest that I have denied myself for so many years.

This week my kids told me that they would rather live in a mess and have time to hang out as a family than to have a clean home and no fun. But perfectionism tells us that good could be great, and great should be better. Perfectionism robs our peace of mind and replaces it with irrational insatiable striving for approval that is ever rising and never within our reach. Perfectionism erodes our relationships and the confidence of those around us who can never live up to our lofty ideals, causing panic and unrest.

I use to think “balance” meant balancing everything perfectly: beautiful home, profitable career, attractive image, public approval, etc.

Now I know that balance means finding a harmony between responsibilities and enjoying relationships, between making a home and making memories.

No one will say at your funeral, “Her stainless steel was always spotless.” But wouldn’t it be nice if they said, “She always made time for me when I needed her.”

That my friends, is balance.

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