Friday, August 15, 2008

The neurosis of perfectionism

Don't get me wrong. I am all about self-improvement and progression... it's one of the big reasons we're here. But I have been so troubled lately by the need of so many women to present a perfect life, one that doesn't show any struggle, blemishes, or imperfections. Too good to be true perfect. Perfect hair, perfect meals, perfect hostesses, perfect projects, on and on.

Please don't misunderstand me... I truly believe we should be striving to do our best, to be constantly trying to improve and progress. We are commanded, aren't we? "Be ye therefore perfect." But we misunderstand. We misuse that term. Neal A. Maxwell said,
"If we love Him, we will strive to keep [this commandment]: 'Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.' The Greek rendering for 'perfect' is, by the way, 'complete, finished, fully developed.' . . . One of the problems we have in the Church is that we consider perfection in abstraction, and it becomes too intimidating. But when we think of it in terms of the specific, cardinal attribute, and we strive to develop these in a steady process of self-improvement, it is quite a different matter."
Fully developed. A steady process of self-improvement. We need constantly strive for perfection, which is, in reality, a process of developing ourselves fully. Our society of instant gratification has created somehow a need for instant perfection, also. We all think suddenly that if the baby shower we're throwing or the tiny living room which should have been decorated lovingly on a tiny budget doesn't look like Martha Stewart did it, we have failed. We forget that Martha has 600 people working for her to make it look like that. We will kill ourselves outright to look perfect. I feel like this syndrome is taking us over.

I've been reading this amazing book, which was given me by my dear sister, and I'll write more about that another time. But something the author wrote in it really struck me.

Even our most cherished image of perfection--Home--has turned into something sinister and macabre, giving rise to a culture that worships domestic goddesses, whom we have unconsciously allowed to become graven images that diminish rather than enrich our creative life at home. ...

The neurosis of perfectionism is feminine self-loathing disguised as self-improvement. It's an insidious, invisible addiction that's difficult to recognize because perfection is culturally sanctioned and socially approved; the pursuit of perfection allows us to run away from our pain and problems but be in plain view, fully present, and looking fabulous to the rest of the world.
Please don't get me wrong. I think we should always be striving to be our best selves. But the thing I find so discouraging is the perfectionism that we inflict upon ourselves that causes us to run away from ourselves, to try so hard to be the perfect person to everyone else. There's nothing wrong with Martha Stewart's recipes or ideas. I think that they're just as cute as everyone else! But the problem lies in striving so much to do everything that perfect, that we run away from reality. It will drive us mad. In the words of Sarah Ban Breathnach, "Domestic goddesses are bad for your health."

Let's give it a try today, shall we ladies? Try to give ourselves some genuine time to progress, without worrying about how we look? Stop running away from our problems by being the perfect woman, but deal with them through genuinely striving to progress and improve? Let's cease to run ourselves ragged, and find peace in taking a breath and realizing our potential. Our own Savior told us, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." Even as your Father. Not even as Martha. :)

Martha has 600 people whose job it is to make something everyday that you can't possibly reproduce, because it's not real. Your Father provided you a Savior, and a way to perfect yourself and become like Him. And you know He's real. :)


kannie said...

Thank you for this post!!! I've been thinking about this a lot lately, too - kind of from a different angle, but realizing that I can't do everything I want to, right now. There's a time and a season, and bringing us "back to center" is the key to ending up where we actually want to be... thank you!!! :-) Love you!!!

chantilita said...

Glad you liked that book!! :) I'm reading a part right now about the power of sulking :)

It's such a hard thing to remember--perfection isn't expected today. It's something I know I struggle with A LOT!!

Tara and Dan Stewart said...

What are you talking about?? I'm totally perfect. I told myself that today when the baby was screaming, I got spit up on my face and down my shirt, and then the pee fountain magically erupted all around the room. Totally perfect.

So when do perfect people get showers?????? :)

Nicole said...

awesome. reading your post came at a perfect time. i've been feeling tied down with my weaknesses lately. i'm trying hard to overcome them, but feel that all that everyone else sees are the many flaws. but i've been redirecting that energy to be better and be a peace with ME.