Tag Archives: overcoming perfectionism

The Twins, Part 2 – Perfectionism

Siamese Twins, Nuremberg Chronicles (1441-1514) (PD)

Siamese Twins, Nuremberg Chronicles (1440-1514) (PD-Old)

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.”

-Marie Williams

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.”

-Marie Williams

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. Continue reading

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Imperfection

We burn the eggs, drip salad dressing down the front of a new blouse. We misplace our glasses, and lock our keys in the car. We mistakenly toss our wallets down the garbage chute, along with the trash. We amass fender benders, and parking tickets. We trip with the dog food, and scatter kibble across the kitchen floor.

Human beings are imperfect…as housekeepers, dry cleaners, locksmiths, building superintendents, and highway patrol officers (not to mention our pets) can attest. Minor shortcomings such as these are the least of our failings. For abuse victims, however, even minor imperfections can be deadly.

Abusers will set impossible standards for their victims, and punishment out of all proportion to an infraction. These standards may be the very ones to which the abusers were held in childhood. Not all abusers were though abused. Nor is childhood abuse a license to abuse others in adulthood.

Some individuals will inflict pain or deprivation on their victims from outright sadism or an extreme narcissism. The abused child (or abused adult partner) is viewed as a representative of the abuser before the world. All the abuser’s insecurities are projected onto the victim, who is then seen as deficient, defective.

Often the abuse victim will strive to achieve these unrealistic standards, as much out of love as out of fear. This is not brainless. Human beings are meant to love. Unfortunately, the image we have of love can be distorted.

Victims commonly blame themselves for an abuser’s actions, preserving at all cost the delusion of an ideal parent, caregiver or spouse. For children, in particular, it is terrifying to contemplate a dangerous world without the protection of a loving adult. Easier to shut our eyes on reality, and assume the abuser’s guilt.

To regain control of our lives, we must stop lying to ourselves; must deliberately set aside the futile pursuit of perfection; and – like the rest of humanity – must come to terms with our limitations.

Thankfully, excellence does not require perfection.  Not even God does.

But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection” (Col. 3: 14).

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