*Warning: Adult Language Ahead!
Hi, my name is Jude, and I am recovering perfectionist.
I fucked up recently—and it totally derailed me.
I was invited to join an online community last month, run by a highly respected Shamanic teacher (let’s call him Dave) whose work I greatly admire. Now, Dave doesn’t allow just anyone into his circle. You must be referred and vetted before you’re allowed access to his community.
My inclusion in this group felt like an invitation to my dream dinner party: lots of interesting people having captivating conversations about stuff I dig. This was a really big deal to me.
Like most online communities, this one has rules. As a perfectionist, I love rules, because they tell me exactly what is or isn’t appropriate behavior in any given situation. How else am I supposed to determine my worth as a human being?
The friend who referred me to the group warned me that Dave was extremely meticulous in how he ran his space. He has very clear expectations about how people are to conduct themselves while in his space, and he’s not afraid to spank you (Zen Master-style) if you step out of line.
Wanting to be a “perfect” guest, I made sure to read all the rules.
But despite that, with my very first foray into this new community, I fucked up. At the time I didn’t realize my mistake, all I knew was that within an hour, my post had been pulled down.
Perfectionists can be a total pain in the ass to be around, and I say this with love, because I am one. We can get kinda tweaky when things don’t go exactly the way we expect.
But here’s the thing: Perfectionists get tweaky because we’re scared. We’re terrified everyone will figure out what a worthless pieces of shit we are.
When I noticed my post was gone, I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. I felt like my contribution was neither wanted nor worthy. So I did what any normal human being would do; I tried to escape that heinous feeling of worthlessness as fast as fucking possible.
I usually try to run away from my emotions. Sometimes I try numbing out. This typically involves me drinking several cans of Strongbow at a less-than-ladylike speed while shoving pretzels into my mouth between gulps.
Or I attempt to distract myself. I fire up Facebook and Netflix and Pinterest and some stupid cat videos, all at the same time, in an attempt to avoid feeling so freaking uncomfortable.
In this case, I resorted to naming and blaming. I got really angry with Dave. Like, really angry. I penned an incredibly nasty imaginary email full of expletives and exclamation points. I fantasized about flipping over my desk and lighting it on fire.
I felt horrible—and it was Dave’s fault, dammit!
See what I mean when I say that perfectionists can be a drag to be around?
In the midst of my “Hulk smash mode,” I revisited the rules of this community in an attempt to vindicate myself. It was then that I realized what I had posted was clearly against the rules. This was not a style issue or simple online snarkiness. I had made a (very public) blunder.
I was M.O.R.T.I.F.I.E.D.
This faux pas punched every single one of my perfectionist-rule-following-people-pleasing buttons (and I have more buttons than the Apollo space capsule).
I wanted to crawl under my still-smoldering desk and hide. Instead, I wallowed in my agony for an hour until I finally became aware of a little voice at the back of my head whispering,
“Hey, dude, you are a coach. You have tools. You can deal with this.”
I realized that I had an opportunity to practice all the stuff I talk to my clients about. So that’s exactly what I did. I did My Work.
In coachy-speak, doing Your Work means first recognizing you’re in the shit. When you have awareness, you have agency.
Okay, so I’m in the shit. What now?
Whenever I realize that I’m confused or overwhelmed by emotions, I always check in with what I feel in my body. Our bodies always know what our truth is.
My body felt like someone was squeezing my heart. Like I was going to be sick to my stomach and my cheeks were two hot plates set to max.
And just like that, I realized, “Ahhh—I’m in a shame spiral.”
In Karla McLaren’s brilliant book, The Language of Emotions, she explains that every emotion we feel is trying to tell us something. It is our job to recognize the emotion and remember what it is asking for.
Shame, when it’s genuine, tells us we’ve made a misstep and asks us, “How can you make this better? How can you make amends for what has happened?”
Once I got to that place, I literally felt my body shift. It went from this horrible I-want-to-hide-under-the-desk feeling to a much calmer feeling of, “Okay, I’ve made a misstep. How can I fix this?”
I knew immediately what I had to do.
I emailed Dave and said, “Hey, listen. I realize I made a mistake. I’m sorry. It was not intentional. I have since re-read the rules and I promise to be a more mindful member in future”. He was absolutely gracious in his reply.
And that was it. I felt 100 times better, and the incident was over.
All that excruciating emotion to get to “It’s all good.”
Becoming aware of my emotions (no matter how uncomfortable) is one of the ways that I stay in recovery as a perfectionist. Having the courage to stay present with what I’m feeling helps me choose a different way to show up in the world.
It doesn’t always feel good, but it always feels a helluva lot better than wearing the mask of perfection, playing small, or trying to hide from shame.
Author: Jude Temple
Volunteer Editor: Julie Barr; Editor: Toby Israel