I have a confession: I make mistakes. I know, that doesn’t seem like much of a confession because everybody makes mistakes, but with the amount of shame and fear that comes up from admitting it, you’d think I killed a man and buried his body in the backyard.
I notice the intensity of shame and fear shifts according to my perception of safety around making a mistake. If I make a mistake and the only person affected is me, for instance, the shame and fear levels are low. If I make a mistake at work, the shame and fear levels are high. The levels spike because my brain starts telling me the story, “I’m going to get fired! I’ll be destitute!” In my mind, the only way to stay safe at work or in my relationships is to be perfect. If I’m not perfect, something bad will happen. It’s not entirely logical but when are emotions ever logical?
This week when I made mistakes, I gave myself the basic mothering and fathering messages I learned in therapy: “I’m here. I’m not going anywhere. I’m not ever going anywhere. I’ll protect you. I’ll meet all your needs. Nothing about you will keep me from meeting your needs.” It helped. It also helped reminding myself security doesn’t come from other people or an external source. Security comes from me and from higher power. Money for instance doesn’t come solely from a job. It can come from an inheritance or the government or whatever. If I lost my job tomorrow, I could borrow money or start a GoFundMe campaign or any number of things.
When I’m stuck in perfectionism, my perspective shrinks and I think in black and white. However, the world is in color and much more nuanced than I remember. When thinking about perfectionism, I was reminded an early definition of perfect is, “Brought to consummation or completeness.” That’s coming from the 1913 Webster’s Writers’ Dictionary. As a one on the Enneagram, I’m all about finding holy perfection, and the practice for me is to remember “perfect” doesn’t mean without mistakes, rather, it means completeness.
Completeness ultimately means unification with a power greater than myself, according to my spiritual tradition. I meditate and live my life in such a way that I’m moving closer and closer to a divine entity. I’m trying to unite and merge with something much subtler than I am. When I’m stuck in perfectionism, I lose sight of my journey and instead focus on a snapshot in time. I forget I’m learning and growing. I forget mistakes are an integral part of the process.
Will I still make mistakes? Yes. Will I still beat myself up about them? Probably. But more and more I’m using tools to come out of it, to love myself, and to be in the space of seeing holy perfection.
I dream of a world where we remember in our quest to be perfect, really we want safety, peace of mind, and completeness. A world where we realize we are all moving toward something whole and unified. A world where we remember it’s OK to mess up and even perfect in its own way.
Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.