An Ode to Being Imperfect
Have no fear of perfection–you’ll never reach it, Salvador Dali
“There is a story of a father who pointed to his paraplegic son and railed at G-D for his imperfect child. G-d replied, “Seek perfection in your reactions, not your son’s physical makeup.” The actual message here is that we, as human beings, must accept that we are imperfect and that it is alright.
Kristin Neff, author of a must-read book, “Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind,“ defines perfection as the compulsive need to achieve and accomplish one’s goals, with no allowance for falling short of one’s ideals.
Why do some people insist on perfection in everything they do? Many theories attempt to explain this. One is that perfectionists are very insecure and believe they are not good enough. There is much self-judgment in those seeking perfection.
Another way of looking at this is to suggest that the perfectionist compensates for a deep sense of inadequacy. Other people are viewed as being better than they are. In their pursuit of perfection, they are up against frustration because perfection is impossible for anyone.
The problem is that we are caught in a competitive society demanding constant productivity. While society does not demand perfection, it rewards those who strive for it. However, in striving for perfection, we run into self-hatred, frustration, and depression because it’s impossible to be perfect.
As Tara Brach points out in her excellent book Radical Acceptance, ”There is something wonderfully bold and liberating about saying yes to our imperfect and messy life. With even a glimmer of that possibility, joy rushes in. Yet when we have been striving to make ‘Pillsbury(perfect) biscuits’ for a lifetime, the habits of perfectionism don’t easily release their grip. When mistrust and skepticism creep in, we might be tempted to back down from embracing our life unconditionally. When we put down ideas of what life should be like, we are free to say yes to our life as it is wholeheartedly.”
Unless we give perfectionism a terrible reputation, it has a good side to it. It has advantages in so far as it motivates people to do the very best they can. Striving to achieve and setting high standards for yourself can be a productive and healthy trait. However, once a person’s sense of well-being and self-esteem is based on being perfect, there is nothing but unhappiness. Neff points out that perfectionists are at significant risk of developing eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and other emotional problems.
If you stop and think about it, accepting being imperfect is a relief. It’s OK to be imperfect and to be the way we are.