This post was written in collaboration with Marie Williams whose remarks are highlighted. Marie blogs at Come Fly with Me, https://mariewilliams53.wordpress.com.
We return to the topic of procrastination and perfectionism, related patterns of behavior in which many abuse victims find themselves trapped.
The part we play in creating our own dilemmas – the large and small crises in our lives stemming from procrastination – was discussed in Part 1 of this series.
Chance for Failure (Imperfection)
“…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1: 7).
Apart from the problems it would generate for anyone, failure – defined by many abuse victims as imperfection, to any small degree – results in shame and self-revilement for us. Since creating these dilemmas greatly increases our chance for failure, the question arises why we persist in creating them.
“The whole time I was procrastinating, I thought myself foolish, an idiot, a dunce, a failure, because who in their right mind, sees a fire starting or about to start, purposely hides the fire extinguisher, forgets where she has put it and then goes and reads a book, deciding to deal with the fire when it becomes bigger and more unmanageable? Because that is what procrastination amounts to when you come to think of it in rational terms. Yet I could not help myself.”
The obvious answer is that we do not believe ourselves capable of accomplishing the task at hand. Putting it off defers the painful acknowledgment of our own inadequacy. And it provides us an excuse for failure. Had conditions been right, had we started on the task sooner, perhaps we might have succeeded after all.
Again, the question is why. Why are we so certain of failure? This goes directly to our childhood abuse. On an unconscious level, we create these dilemmas to replicate the abuse which is what gives them such power over us.
We were told repeatedly how inadequate we were. Told how ugly, stupid, skinny, fat, or retarded we were. Told that we would never amount to anything. Or we were ignored entirely, starved for food and affection both.
No shock that we doubt and second guess ourselves, wrestling over decisions.
“I floundered when faced with choices. Wanting to please and be approved of ALL THE TIME, I became lost in my own lack of confidence. This, I think, was due to the fact that I couldn’t manage the abuse. I adopted the same response to situations which generated that same confusion in me.”
Failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Our abusers are “proven” right. So it seems to us. Our failure couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the damage they inflicted on us. Nooo.
“Being worried and afraid provided the fillip I needed to start that essay, read and digest those facts, be prepared whatever the outcome might be: a satisfying outcome, rejection, or possibly punishment. That is what I learned from my early childhood on. So it follows that I would carry that into my teenage years/adolescence. This makes complete sense. What you learn is what you become.”
Struggling against what seemed titanic forces, we tried to please. We tried to achieve perfection, in the hope that would win us the love that rightly belonged to us.
Children are not trained seals. They should not have to perform for affection. Nonetheless, we carried perfectionism with us into the school and the workplace, where it often proved useful. Excellence is appreciated by the world (even when not recognized by our loved ones).
But perfectionism takes a high toll. It puts enormous stress on us, requiring endless hours. We can never relax. Any success we may achieve is brittle, fragile. Surely, the next project will disclose our shortcomings. So we fear.
And perfectionism is destructive to relationships. It sets the bar so high, neither we nor our partner can attain it.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4: 13).
But suppose instead we breezed through the task. Wouldn’t that prove our abusers wrong? Do we dare risk proving that? Do we dare lift our heads?
Those are questions worth exploring.
Chance for Success
“Commit your work to the Lord and your plans will be established” (Prov. 16: 3).
How then do we improve our chance for success? How do we fight procrastination? To do that we have to attack fear, perfectionism, and delay.
“Procrastination for me was a kind of life-line, I would say. Putting things off until the very last moment was a way of processing profound trauma. I can see now that procrastinating was a flawed coping device for the long-haul. I could not know this as a child, adolescent, and young woman. I speak in hindsight. It is always easier to make sense of the past when you deal with it in the present.”
Our greatest fear is being found out, revealed as less than perfect. All humanity, however, is imperfect. We must replace perfectionism with an attainable standard. Excellence does not require perfection. Only God, in fact, is perfect. Certainly, our abusers were not!
Admittedly, changing our belief system takes time. However, if we begin early on a given task, fear is not as much of a factor.
The first draft of a report or first outline of a plan or first attempt at a project is rarely perfect and need not be. We are, therefore, free to improvise and take chances. Mistakes can be corrected and improvements made in the next version. Ask MicroSoft or Apple.
The twins, procrastination and perfectionism, can at last be slain.
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