Is there some weird chance the perfectionism could be labeled an “addiction”? It’s easy to call something an addiction when you can see it. Like, in-your-face see it. I guess I never really thought about it before, but I suppose there are mental and emotional addictions as much as there are physical ones. I mean, I understand that all addictions come from a psychological place; it’s just that so many of them end up manifesting in a physical way. We smoke or drink or eat (or don’t eat) or obsessively exercise or whatever. And when we can see an addiction, we can more easily address the thing(s) that actually brought it on in the first place.
But when it’s something that’s inside my head, it’s harder for me to want to deal with it. I can hide it, I can ignore it, and I can give in to it.
I can’t really determine when my obsessive need for perfection began, but I know that it’s been going on for a long, long, l-o-n-g time. My personal favorite moment of insane perfectionism involves cheesecake(s) and well over $100 in groceries. I was 22 when I first decided to give cheesecake a whirl. I’d had my springform pan for long enough that I needed to put it to use. So I bought all the necessary supplies for a cheesecake and found what seemed to be a good enough recipe and I mixed together a cheesecake. The crust was absolute perfection. I know without a doubt that I kill it with graham cracker crumb crusts. When it came out of the oven, the cheesecake didn’t rise the way I thought it would; it sunk in the middle. It looked so sad. So I scraped the entire thing into the trash can and started over. Four more times. The fifth and final time, I was just too exhausted to try again, so I filled the giant, sunken cheesecake with cherry pie filling and called it a day. It was probably the longest baking day I’ve ever had. It was sheer madness.
My perfectionism rears up most readily in my cooking and baking. If something doesn’t look the way I want it to, I beat myself up almost endlessly. I’ve probably thrown away thousands of dollars worth of food in my adult lifetime just because it didn’t look right.
I’m in a near-constant state of worry when it comes to people’s perception of me and my life. I want to be the perfect cook and baker. I want to be the best-dressed in whatever social situation I find myself in. I want to be the perfect wife (which is turning into a whole new challenge with wanting to be the perfect Navy wife and the perfect Chief’s wife) and to have the perfect marriage. I want my house to look perfect, my writing to be perfect, and my hair and makeup to be perfect. I want to plan the perfect parties. I always aim for perfection.
When something doesn’t go the way I plan, I start to lose my mind a little bit. It stresses me out. I work very hard to make sure things go “just so” and when they don’t, I get very upset. I worry that people will think less of me. I worry more than anything that I’ll let someone down or disappoint them.
Worse yet is the feeling that not only have I disappointed another person, but that I’ve disappointed myself.
Disappointing myself is something I’ve learned to both fear and regard. I feel like it keeps me in check. It makes me aim to do my best. At the same time, it cause for a lot of concern when it comes to my perfectionism. This is especially true in how I view my physical self. I beat myself up, both physically and mentally, over the way I look. I feel (probably excessive) shame when I don’t look “just so” in whatever outfit it is I’m wearing at the time. I get angry at myself when I don’t or can’t lose the weight I want to and then get frustrated when I know that I can actually do it, but lack the discipline that’s required. I vacillate between being content with my physical self and disgust that I can’t fit into the jeans I want because of my gut. Is there any more awful feeling than that of contempt for oneself?
The thing with perfection (and probably with any addiction) is that it’s something that’s been a part of me for so long, I don’t know how to behave without it. And I don’t know how people would react if I didn’t do it. I find myself saying things that addicts say…”I can stop whenever I want” or “It’s not really that big of a deal” or “It’s not interfering with my daily life”, but when I allow myself to really think about it, I can’t stop, it is a big deal, and it does interfere with my life.
One of my biggest fears is that I’ll transfer this bizarre addiction to my children. I fear that they’ll hate themselves as much as I have hated myself, that they’ll feel as worthless as I have, that they’ll crave perfection the way I do and place all their worth in what they think people think about them rather than concerning themselves with being educated, kind, well-rounded, and faith-full individuals…all the things I should be concerning myself with rather than worrying about throwing the perfect party or baking the perfect cupcakes.
What I really don’t want is for my future children to confuse perfection with love. I’ve done that before. I still do it sometimes. I fail to love myself when I’m not perfect and I fail to understand that people who love me – really, really love me – don’t expect me to be perfect.
The addiction of perfection inherently causes imperfection. It almost always causes failure at some point. I’ve been a huge proponent of “If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all.” It kind of makes me wonder about all the things I’ve missed out on because I was too afraid to not do it perfectly. Just in the last five minutes, I’ve remember about a hundred things I didn’t do or quit doing because it didn’t go perfectly quickly enough (or at all). And all those things I quit doing? I still beat myself up over…especially that big, huge “quit”. I can’t even forgive myself perfectly. Sheesh.
So I think what I’m coming to realize is that I need to start thinking not about WHAT I’m doing, but WHY I’m doing it. The problem isn’t that I want perfect cupcakes…the problem is why do I think the cupcakes have to be perfect in the first place? Why do I want the perfect body? Why do I want to throw the perfect party? Why do I want any type of perfection? It’s going to be incredibly hard. And as with any addiction, I fully expect this to be a lifelong struggle. I expect to relapse. I expect to give in to perfection. I, frankly, expect to fail.
But in my failure, I will try to love myself.