Thursday, April 28, 2016

post estrangement - Dealing with the stress of imperfection

Taming the Stress monster:  
Strive for excellence, not perfection.

Somewhere along the line I got the message that unless it is perfect it isn’t good enough. It ranks as one of the worst inner messages that I absorbed.  This belief that I needed to be perfect has caused me no end of grief. 

It set the path of my life to constantly feeling I was underachieving, that I had no value unless I could “get it right”. I stressed out over every dinner party, over every conversation, over every project fearful that I wouldn’t get it good enough. 

I knew I was in trouble when we got a renovation done in our home and I started the cleaning up project.  I was on my hands and knees with a razor blade going over every single ceramic floor tile looking for tiny paint splatters.  Not only did I do this once, I did it seven times!!!!   I felt that only if I could get every single last teeniest tiniest paint splatter would I be able to say I had done the job good enough!  I keep waiting for someone, anyone to say to me “the floor looks fabulous!” but the compliment never came….so I beat myself up and got down on my knees again looking for that elusive paint splatter that I had missed.

That was the day I recognized for the first time just how much trouble I was in from my internal demon that was constantly telling me “it’s not good enough”.  I realized I did not know how to say to myself; “self, you did a good job” without that inner demon saying “yeah, but it’s not perfect”

Yes there should be an imperative to do your best, to work hard at striving to improve, but it shouldn’t get to the point of debilitating your ability to recognize that a well done job does not have to reach that illusive standard perfection. 

That self-induced stress almost ruined my life.
It caused me to negatively judge myself on everything I undertook
It caused me to be my own worst critic
It caused me to stop projects that brought me joy in the doing, because I could never hope to be good enough.

I remember being in a class preparing for my teaching degree where we had to answer questions.  I answered my question fully to the best of my ability.  Before the teacher could say anything a fellow student shouted out “that’s not right”.  I broke down in tears and rushed out of the room, my dear best friend in the course with me, rushing after me.  I was in such a state of stress that all I could repeat over and over again was “I am so stupid, I have wasted 3 years of teacher training and I can’t even answer a simple question”.  My friend tried to tell me that I had answered correctly but I did not hear her.  All I heard was the other student saying “that’s not right”.  Finally, I calmed down enough to return to the classroom ready to tell my teacher that I was dropping out; I would not take my final exam. My teacher said, “Renate your answer was perfect, the other student was out of line”.  I looked at the other student and she did not have one shred of remorse or doubt that she would do well on the exam.  Why of why did her outburst so destroy me!?  Because I had set up the parameters for myself to such a degree of perfection that her comment shattered the foundation of my need to be perfect.

Coming to terms with being estranged for not being a “perfect parent” has led me down the path of reevaluating exactly what it means to be perfect and if I miss the mark on being perfect how does the impact on me as a person?  It is all well and good to repeat to myself; “you are good enough just the way you are”; but if deep down I don’t believe it, then I am always striving for the elusive perfection that will make me feel that I am good enough. 

Except of course, that road never arrives at any destination that fulfills the emptiness of low self-esteem.  You can do all the hard work you want to, to do your best but when that best is still not good enough you end up deeming yourself a failure simply because it was not perfect. 

Can someone who has this strange love hate relationship with perfection ever come to terms with being alright with “good enough”?  I am working on that.  I am getting better at acknowledging success without expecting perfection.  I still catch the inner critic trying to get heard, but I am better able to tell critic to “shut up”.

I think that being a parent is one of the most difficult challenges we face in life.  When our children find us “insufficient” and estrange us, those of us who have trouble with “perfection” and the voice of the inner critic, suffer disproportionate amounts of stress related to our perceived inadequacies.  To be abandoned for not being “good enough” plays right into our biggest fear of being “imperfect”

So after years of hearing only one message in being estranged; “you are a failure, I can now realistically say, “my best effort was unable to provide my offspring with some vital element that she required but that does not negate my effort, it does not negate my intention to do my best and it does not diminish who I am as a person.  It simply means that I am human.”

On the road toward healing that is a huge step forward!

Oh and the floor that I so meticulously scraped!  I can now look the other way when a few crumbs fall on it without going into a frenzy of needing to get on my hands and knees to wash and wash and wash.  I have come a long way.

Renate Dundys Marrello  
2015 – 04 – 28

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