Thursday, May 26, 2016

Perfection... isn't so much

Lately, I  have been thinking about some of the people in my life who have been meaningful for me and who have helped to shape my life.  There was my third grade teacher who helped me, the new girl, connect with a classmate who ended up being my best friend for the next several years. There was my eighth grade and tenth grade teacher (same person) who helped bring me out of my shell and allow me to feel comfortable in my own skin. I had some professors in college who took the time to get to know me, not just as student, but as a person.  We would spend hours discussing philosophy, literature, or religion but also friends, family, and fears.  I remember feeling at home in college in a way I never did before.  I felt like I knew myself and I had possibilities that I had not considered before.

Despite my love and gratitude for these people, they were not perfect.  My third grade teacher caused something of a scandal because she was divorced.  My eighth and tenth grade teacher was wonderful and thoughtful and creative, but I can see now that he was in flux. Not long after I finished tenth grade, he moved into administration and is now the principal at the middle school there.  The professors I loved had various issues: difficulty with connection, depression, self-esteem issues, family stresses, etc.  I didn't need them to be perfect. I needed them to be who they were.

I have a tendency to be somewhat perfectionistic in my own life (sadly, not with cleaning, but with other areas), and this can be a problem.  My own therapist explained to me (and I think she was right), that many of my situational problems have occurred when I tried to force myself to be perfect.  When I get there, I stop listening to myself and stop being myself, and then I trip over and step in all kinds of things.  It's hard to remember that, however, when I am afraid that I am not good enough or that I will make a mistake that will hurt someone.  I have to learn to trust myself.

My clients, I think, struggle with some of that same feeling that they have to be perfect.  They have to be perfect to be loved, to be safe, to be approved of....  The struggle is real.  This perfection extends from their physical appearance to their behavior to their decision making. From the outside, I can see that perfection, even if it were possible, would not be the shield or the insurance that they want it to be. Most of what they are trying to protect themselves from is not about them to begin with but about other people and their decisions.  This, however, is something they need to learn for themselves.

What I notice more, though, is that when they try to be "perfect" in therapy, they don't get the response they want there, either.  When they tell me what they think I want to hear, I don't know what they really are experiencing. When they hide what they feel or what they think, they reinforce their own shame and leave me either responding to something that isn't there or confused about who I'm with.  Neither of us is able to do the work that needs to be done when either of us is focused on being "perfect."

When we are both ourselves, however, we can connect in a way that people don't often have the opportunity to do. What has been hidden in shame can often be seen in a different light and released.  What makes people different becomes a uniqueness rather than a defect.  If I were perfect, my clients could not relate to me.  If they were perfect, they wouldn't need me.  When we are perfectly imperfect together, change happens and new meaning is created.

I would like to thank all of those perfectly imperfect people who have helped me to be who I am today. My heart and soul are grateful to them.  If you have things to discuss and need someone who is not perfect to help you, I hope you will find me.  I'd love to see what we could do together.