I have been avoiding writing about this guidepost for two weeks now. Why? Because it is probably my biggest struggle. Today we look at “Cultivating Self Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism.” I have never researched it but maybe having an eating disorder leads you to the expectation of “perfect” and unattainable goals in all areas of life. I am bulimic. I’ve had a pretty healthy relationship with food and my body for 8 years now but I still struggle. My body image is severely distorted. Even when I lost 25 pounds during my divorce and was a size 2 at 5’7 I still thought I was too fat and wasn’t happy with the way I looked. I wasn’t then and never was perfect, but it always seemed attainable if I tried harder. And by trying harder I mean taking a couple extra laxatives after binging at Taco Bell.
Brené Brown says that:
“Where perfectionism exists shame is always lurking. Shame is the birthplace of perfectionism.”
Well, shit. Here I thought perfectionism was a good thing. Always trying to look right, say the right thing, do the right thing, share the right pictures was all a part of my goal of happiness and fulfillment. Turns out perfectionism is not about self-improvement or healthy striving. Perfectionism is the idea that if we do everything perfectly we can avoid shame and judgment. Even celebrities who are our images of perfection come under constant judgment for the things they do, wear, and say. No one can avoid judgment so why perfection?
Today I filed a motion to enforce my rights with the family court. I have avoided doing this for months because it was never the right time. If I wasn’t going to be able to “do it all” then why bother trying? Two weeks ago I got an email from Liam’s father telling me that he will be taking him to Orlando in June. Sound good, right? Right. EXCEPT that they did this already in September. Sure, that’s fine but he owes us thousands of dollars in child support. Sure, except he wants to do this a week before Liam is on summer holiday. Did I forget to mention he went to court to order me to put our son in preschool at age 2 just so he wasn’t at home with me? Oops, I forgot, that rule doesn’t apply to him. There is just too much there to ignore anymore and as happy as I am avoiding the inevitable return to court these things need to be on the record.
For the past two weeks I have worked on a certification, or my reasons for asking for the court’s assistance. I didn’t know what I wanted so I just started writing. I went on and on about the time Liam came home and told me his dad called him stupid and the time I asked him to install Liam’s car seat properly and instead of fixing it he rolled his eyes and sped off. I wrote about Liam telling me a story about his “mean daddy. His name is [father’s name].” it just poured out of me. The tales of being hit. The growling at me, yes, like an animal, during transitions.
I am self-represented. I go before the judge by myself against my ex-husband and his criminal defense attorney who helped get him out of sexual assault charges while we were still married. The only way I can win before the judge is to be perfect. I can’t slip up. I am an imperfect mother and a flawed human being but my heart is in the right place. In court, though, my expectations of myself are even higher because it’s my son’s life on the line. Deadlines, forms, grammar. I know that she sees an absurd amount of paperwork, our judge, and I can’t have mine be the stack that is flawed and incomplete. So far I have done everything by the book and screwed up only on minor details.
So why does it take me so long? I am really hard on myself. Mistakes aren’t just mistakes, they are reflections of the screw up I am. Mistakes are evidence that I actually am NOT enough and a bad mom. On the *Self Compassion Scale, I rank low on self-kindness, a 1.6 out of 5 actually. On self-judgment I’m really high, 4.6 out of 5. And that is tonight! (I did the SCS to avoid writing this post.) I have been working for about a year now on self-love. Can you imagine what this would have looked like several years ago when I had someone incessantly telling me I was lazy, fat, disgusting, insane, and unlovable to name a few? I’ve been trying to reframe negative self-talk, trying to let go of this idea that if everything looks perfect then I will be happy. But I am still failing in this area.
Self-kindness is a way of being warm and patient with ourselves when we struggle, fail, or feel inadequate. When it comes to being compassionate for others I am super kind and mindful (4.75 and 4.25 respectively on the Compassion for Others Scale). So why is it so hard to show that same kindness to me? If a friend brought me a 60-page file that she had compiled on her own for family court I would say “wow, that’s amazing. You must be really proud of yourself. You are really going to bat for your kid.” Instead, my initial reaction to myself is “who do you think you are? This is isn’t good enough. You have to do more. You are going to end up losing your son because this is crap.” I eventually got to a place today that is maybe somewhere in the middle of these two compassion scenarios, filed the motion with the court, and served opposing counsel.
Letting go of perfectionism is a constant struggle for me. Last year I went with my sister and her three daughters, 10 and 12-year-old twins, to look at wedding dresses. My regular comment about dresses was not whether or not they were pretty or comfortable but whether or not they made me look fat. This is what I was modeling, out loud to my nieces whom I adore. I would never allow them to talk to themselves that way but by talking negatively to myself in front of them I was saying “this is OK.” And it is not. To my sister, I say I am sorry for not taking the opportunity to set a better example for your girls. I’m trying.
I am learning to accept myself for being the best I can be. I’ve stopped hating on myself for our messy house. I’ve let that attempt at perfection go and though I am still not happy with its chaos or dust I no longer blame myself for not being a good enough housekeeper or for being too lazy to do better. I can go to a meeting, or even to our minister’s house for dinner, without putting makeup on from time to time. I still like to put forth the effort, but I don’t chastise myself if I don’t. I’m also not afraid that people will like me less if I show up that way because I am deserving of love and belonging, just as I am. I’m learning how to move away from negative statements about myself in general into negative statements about an action or situation. I am not perfect, never have been, and never will be. But what I WILL be is the best version of myself which is good enough.
This blog post is not perfect. I’m not even sure it’s coherent but I was committed to writing tonight and I did so that is the best I can give and that is enough.
The following PDF of the below image is linked to all posts related to my journey with Brené. Enjoy the trip! 10 Guideposts for Wholehearted Living
As always you can join me on my journey with Brené by visiting www.brenebrown.com or by picking up a copy of her book “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are” on Amazon.
*The Self Compassion Scale (SCS) and Compassion for Others Scale were created by Dr. Kristin Neff. Learn more at www.selfcompassion.org