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February 4, 2016

How I Overcame the Disease of Perfectionism.

Isolation

I grew up deeply immersed in the disease of perfectionism.

I’d always known I had the disease. Initially, I thought it was hereditary and that I’d caught it from my mother’s family.

My mother comes from many generations of exceptionally attractive, extraordinarily successful people. All of them raised with long-standing, hard-core WASP values.

Disappointment and failure were not options, and no matter what was going on inside your home or your heart, no matter what, under no circumstances, could you ever let the outside world see anything less than the storybook version of your life.

Whew, that is a lot of pressure.

Growing up, I always identified more with the loud, laid-back Italian side of my family, my dad’s side.

My dad’s parents came through Ellis Island from Italy to a new world that was less than welcoming. They knew hard times. They couldn’t have made it look perfect even on the best of days.

Yet, even under these circumstances, my dad was president of the National Honor Society, captain of the football team, was the first person in his family to go past the 8th grade, to get a Master’s degree, to be inaugurated into the football hall of fame in his community and, finally, to retire not from one brilliant career, but from two, before going on in his life to be the perfect husband, supporting my mom in her highly successful business.

Whew, that is a lot of pressure, too.

I watched as the scenes from my life played out—from my obviously perfect body, my struggle with teen-aged angst, my barely graduating from a painfully un-stimulating high school career, not getting into my first-choice college, and not knowing what I wanted to do with my life. I watched myself jumping from one imperfect, low paying job to the next, marrying an imperfect man, then, finally, living through the excruciating struggle of my imperfect body refusing to give life to my last hope at perfection—you guessed it, no perfect children for me.

My former spouse and family members might tell you it was the fertility drugs that made me crack, because it was around this time that I stopped giving a sh*t about the storybook tale. I no longer cared what my life looked like on the outside, because it was a heinous, f*cked-up mess on the inside. No, I don’t care what anyone thinks they know about my life, and no, I am not going to your baby shower! 

And there began my fearless journey, tiny baby steps toward what would come. At the time, it was merely to preserve my sanity. I now recognize this as my first glimmer of self-care.

It was then that I finally started saying out loud, “No, I am not okay. I am broken and it hurts and I am not okay.”

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
~ Dr. Seuss

And guess what, those who mattered loved me anyway. I was cured! Or so I thought.

Fast forward two years, to the homecoming of my perfect Guatemalan children.

My body never cooperated, but I never gave up the dream of being a mother. In my children, I found my last shot at being perfect and facilitating perfection.

I was far from perfect, I had long since proven that, but damn it, I was going to be a perfect mother and raise perfect children.

I parented with an iron fist. It was not pretty.

“Don’t get your beautiful dress dirty!”

“Don’t do that!”

“Don’t break that!”

“Behave!”

“Don’t even think about misbehaving!”

“Don’t even think about being imperfect!”

I never said it out loud. No one said it out loud when I was growing up, but the bottom line was, that’s what we were all implying:

“Don’t even think about being imperfect.”

A year into my journey as a single working mom, exhausted, overwhelmed, struggling, but making it all look good on the outside, the call came. “Your child is seriously struggling this year and we think staying in Kindergarten for another year would be the best decision.”

Are you kidding me? This was unacceptable. I would have to tell people. People would see this. What perfect child fails kindergarten? Our imperfections would be out there for the whole world to see.

It was one of the most devastating gifts I have ever received.

In that moment, I realized I was not enjoying my children—or my life, for that matter. The totally unattainable goal of perfection had permeated everything in my life to the detriment and misery not just of me, but of my children. I had to find some way to cure this disease so I could turn this challenge into the opportunity for growth I knew the Universe intended it to be.

It was then that I decided that both my children “needed more practice in kindergarten,” and would both remain another year. It was then that I had to explain to my two precious, perfectly imperfect children that we are all unique and we all have different things that we need in order to thrive.

It was that day that I broke the cycle of the disease of perfection that had permeated my life—and the lives of my ancestors.

It was then that I realized that the root cause of the debilitating disease was feeling the fear of what life would look like if I was uncertain, unsafe or unloved. My childhood fears of what I could not control made me try to control everything in my adult world, from the position of the coaster on the table to the behavior of my young children.

“You are imperfect and wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” ~ Brene Brown

I am now a firm believer that imperfect, transparent vulnerability is a strength. I am a firm believer this is a fundamental skill necessary in raising, happy, healthy, perfectly imperfect children.

My heart sings when I hear my children try something new, do it pretty well, then say, “It’s okay. Nobody is perfect.”

What would the world look like if we all learned to embrace our strengths, openly share our weaknesses, lift one another up and embrace all our perfectly imperfect unique intricacies?

Together, we can all cure this disease. It’s one big, giant, unhappy cancer that divides families and ruins lives.

It is impossible to be perfect. 

No one is perfect.

Stop pretending.

Stop trying.

Be fearless. You are safe. You are loved and you are perfectly imperfect.

~

Relephant:

Perfectionism is the Enemy of Perfection.

Relephant bonus:

~

Author: Christie Del Vesco

Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Hernán Piñera/Flickr

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