#1: Self-torture. As in, why am I spending a week writing about my faults?
Answer: Because writing about my gifts and talents would be even more torturous and not very funny.
Oh, god. Do I really have to talk about self-torture?
Of course I do.
Another word for this is perfectionism. I once heard a man explain that perfectionism was the ultimate expression of shame. I was like, please. You are entirely correct, but can’t I please blame this one on my German mother? I mean, she made me dust. And I had to lift up all the knickknacks. Because after I dusted, she lifted them up, and if I’d wiped around them, I had to do it again. So it is all her fault.
Of course, she is not here, and I am. And I am the one struggling with perfectionism–not in my dusting, which is as sloppy as could be, because my need to say f-you to people seems to last a lifetime. I am perfectionistic about…well, art. Writing. Acting. Social interactions. If I’ve said the right thing. If I’ve been kind enough.
Okay, perfectionism isn’t really funny. I mean, the behavior is absurd–like writing, thinking I’m a genius, but then checking for typos, going back, editing, worrying about it, waking up from a sound sleep, editing again. I mean, you might find a blog entry you read a week ago is now really different.
But what is not funny is setting the bar so high you can never reach your own goals for moral and personal behavior. The self-doubt really is torture. I mean, my partner told me yesterday that yelling, “Leave me alone,” to a student who is stalking you and who owns a gun collection isn’t really a fault (see teacher blog), and you can’t even say that it was a mistake. And I’m thinking, well, what about when I pushed my low level to learn more than they could? That was definitely a mistake.
There are just those days, you know? When you feel embarrassed by yourself, even though you didn’t do anything in particular wrong. You DEFINITELY don’t want to go to a party on days like that. You walk out the door saying, I am a social inept. I can’t make small talk, and I get too personal, too fast, and I should just go live on a mountain, alone.
Then there are the days when I play cute to get my partner out of her bad mood, because I know she can’t resist me being cute even after 24 years. And then I read something about listening and bearing witness to other people’s feelings, and I think that making puppets of my hands and imitating various celebrities doesn’t exactly count as bearing witness. And I feel ashamed. Of not being all that mature. Or only intermittently mature. Even though I sometimes say being mature is over-rated.
And, I mean, okay, I just can’t go that many days in a row, living in Boston, without wanting to kill the other drivers. I stopped giving people the finger a few years ago, and now I try to be all Buddhist having compassion for all sentient beings instead of telling them that they really need to get a life, among other things. I mean the level of insults I come up while driving are so much worse than anything I’ve ever said to anyone in my life. I fantasize about having a super-bumper to use for driving into the people who cut me off for no reason. I have also fantasized about having a signs that say things like, Put down the f-ing phone or You are not the queen of the world, or Delete the testosterone. Of course, the things I’ve actually said, out loud, alone in the car, under my breath, cannot be repeated.
My perfectionism tells me that I must stop all of it–the teaching mistakes, the puppet games, the tickling games, the playing cute, the drive for meaningful conversations in light situations, the road rage. I must be a saint, a paragon, an image, an elegant woman.
Luckily, I have that rebellious sloppy dusting side that says, f-that!
Of course, I am precise in my work, I hate my mistakes, and I can be demanding of others. I like competence, intelligence, efficiency. Especially in myself. I work on being accepting, on lowering expectations, of having a “B” be enough.
It never is. I love excellence.
And all this aside, the truth about perfectionism is that it’s really global. It’s a way of telling yourself that you’re not good enough. All the time. And love for excellence or no, that is self-torture.
I’ve been investigating the mind-body connection in my current yoga-meditation obsession. There is a thing called mind-body syndrome; it causes fibromyalgia, back pain, digestive problems, joint problems. Basically, people with this syndrome can’t relax. They carry tension in their muscles. This forces the body out of alignment and irritates the nerve endings. People with this syndrome are perfectionistic, they take on responsibility that doesn’t belong to them, they have trouble sleeping, they have TMJ, constant fatigue, carpal tunnel. The pain is real and physical, but the cause is partly how we treat ourselves.
I have insomnia and muscular tension, back pain and sometimes TMJ, I have had chronic fatigue and digestive problems.
The quest for self-love isn’t about climbing mountains. It’s about letting go. It’s about being. It’s about dropping the achievement, the having-to, the right way, the rule book. If I believe I am good at heart, I have nothing to prove, only something to live and express, a connection that comes from that goodness, a desire to know, be known, breathe, listen.
My own journey seems to be a ping-ponging back and forth between these two states of being. And I’ll think I’ve got it, I’m living, being present, seeing the brightly painted turtle I bought in Mexico with its movable head, seeing the mess on my desk, the Snoopy typing, the duplicate yoga tapes I bought, just noticing that this is my world. And then suddenly I’m making a list in my head of everything I have to get done before I can rest.
It sneaks up on me.
On my bookshelf is a glass statue of a winged woman, on one leg, her arms uplifted. The glass bird that goes on her hands needs to be glued back on, so she can be, again, the wildly vulnerable creature offering her soul to the world with abandon and trust.
So she can be me, on my best days, when I know my messy, flawed, human spirit can fly up without question of enough. Without any question of whether I will be found worthy.
I mean, really. I just can’t say affirmations like I am enough, because I’m way too cool for that.
Maybe my next fault will be being cool. If that’s a fault. Since I’m now a self-confessed perfectionist, who knows if I even know what my faults are.
Metta, metta, for all sentient beings. Including myself.