Tag Archives: people pleasing

Perfectionism

I’ve developed a practice of jotting down a list of events, conversations and observations at the end of every day, not only as a repository of creative prompts but also to identify patterns in my experience. During the last few weeks, perfectionism has appeared repeatedly in my daily lists, my own pursuit of it as well as my observation of it at work in others.

The first blog I ever wrote was about people pleasing . As I draw word maps and play around with the idea of perfectionism, it’s impossible to separate it from people pleasing. They seem to be shackled together. When I think about that duality, it occurs to me that perfectionism, like people pleasing, is a total abdication of power.

Trying to please others is always about someone else’s needs, and it’s always attached to a particular outcome that I have no control over. Perfectionism feels the same way to me. It’s not about me. It’s not centered in my integrity or intention. I don’t even get to define what perfect is. It’s always about striving to meet the demands of others in order to obtain something I think I need from them.

Perfectionism is an old habit for me. I clearly remember trying to make beds perfectly, trying to sort laundry perfectly, trying to take care of my younger brother perfectly and trying to learn to tie my shoes perfectly. In fact, the entirety of my earliest memories are of struggling to be perfect in order to stay safe.

It didn’t work.

The problem with the concept of perfection is that it’s a chimera, something desperately hoped or wished for but impossible to achieve. Perfection is not static. It’s as elusive as a dust mote dancing in a shaft of light. The second we try to capture, control or define it, it vanishes.

When I imagine a perfect lover, a perfect friend, a perfect house or a perfect day, what I’ve done is pin the butterfly of perfection into a velvet-lined case. In the effort to preserve it, I’ve killed it. To describe perfection as always winning, unchanging, uncomplicated or in any other terms is to limit it, and, diminished, it crumbles into dust.

Photo by Austin Ban on Unsplash

My best view of perfection is always over my shoulder. Perfection defies my expectation and agenda, but I glimpse it clearly as it passes by me and dances away in the distance. Whatever has been; that was perfect. Whatever is now is perfect. All the nows of my life, strung together like pearls on a silk thread, rippling behind me in the current of my passage, are perfect, including, and maybe especially, the knotted repairs, the frayed silk, and the variations in colors, shapes and sizes of the nows.

Perfection is nothing more than a frame. If perfection means without flaw, what is a flaw, exactly? That’s subjective, too. A flaw is just another frame. Either perfection or flaw can frame a moment, a day, a life.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

I’m the only one with the power to define what perfect means in my life. I don’t have to buy in to anyone else’s interpretation. A perfect score, a perfect grade, a perfect 10, a perfect record, a perfect job, a perfect gift and all the rest are powered by competition and outcomes. Even if I win or achieve the outcome I desire most, that moment of perfection is fleeting, a brief second of shimmering wings, and then the butterfly of perfection has once again flown and the current of my life sweeps me into new territory.

Perfectionism, for me, is a compulsion and an addiction. It seduces me with promises of feeling valued and loved, but it never delivers. Practicing perfectionism is practicing self-hatred and fueling my internal critic until I’m paralyzed and beaten. Perfectionism renders me anxious and powerless. I still find myself in its grip occasionally, but I recognize the taste of it now. It’s the taste of futility, of exhaustion and unending effort. It’s empty and barren.

Those who hold us to their standards of perfection are not loving us. They’re controlling us, and people who control others do so because they cannot control themselves. Their expectations of perfection are about them, not us. There is no love there, no success, no safe harbor. Requiring perfection from ourselves murders our ability to live authentically, freely and fully.

My youngest son, wise beyond his years, used to say to me, “Mom, perfection is not a goal.” In those days, the pursuit of perfection still had me by the scruff of the neck and pleasing people was the only hope I had for earning love.

Now I’m older and feistier and I don’t want the pretense of love I have to earn. Perfection doesn’t interest me. I can do much more than achieve perfection. It’s not deep enough, not wide enough and not juicy enough. The false promise of perfection contains nothing I want or need. I want clouds of goldenrod and fields of butterflies and the long streamer of nows I collect, string and knot into place, one perfect pearl at a time.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Pseudo Self

A reader asked me, after my last post, what the difference is between engaging in reciprocity and people pleasing. This is a great question, and it gave me the subject for this week’s blog.

First, I want to answer that question.

Reciprocity minus authenticity equals people pleasing.

If we’re engaged with others authentically, we naturally have things to offer out of our true selves. At its best, reciprocity is a dance between real people with real-person strengths, weaknesses and needs.

People pleasing is an indirect plea for love, acceptance, approval or attention. It’s all about trying to get something back, not about giving out of the abundance of true self. We people pleasers don’t believe we have anything authentic to give that anyone wants, so we watch and listen carefully and try to play a role that we think will please.

The opposition to authenticity is pseudo self. I really explored pseudo self when I went through life coaching ( http://ourdailycrime.com/ready-for-a-change/ ), but a Google search will provide you with the history and background of the term. Wiki has a good page about it.

Essentially, pseudo self is a survival mask that many of us start making as very young children. The construction of pseudo self is so deeply rooted in pain and fear that by the time we’re adults we can no longer tell the difference between the mask and our authentic selves, and the mask has all the power.

This kind of pseudo self is not like the superficial mask we all wear occasionally for social occasions, work occasions and family reunions. For the most part, we know that mask is a mask. Everyone around us wears one, too. Those masks are called manners and social skills (at least in polite conversation).

The survival pseudo self is a much darker mask. Think man in the iron mask. We create it and don it to survive, but over the years it becomes so much a part of us we can’t tell the difference between our flesh and the iron. It tortures us, but we don’t know how to take it off, and if we did know, how could we dare to do it?

Our culture in the United States is deeply committed to keeping that mask firmly in place because our culture is based in capitalism and conditional love, and the foundation of capitalism and conditional love is the belief that we need to be different than we are.  We need to buy things to be. To be what? Fill in the blank. Just to be. What do you want most? Love? Sex? Money? Power? Whatever it is, a half hour of commercial television will help you start a list of the things you need to buy to achieve it. Everything on that list is another rivet in the iron mask of pseudo self.

We are so brainwashed by this as parents, teachers, partners and human beings that we unconsciously perpetuate a paradigm of conditional love. We relate to one another through competition, power over, and all the things we need to be okay. We withhold love, affection, friendship and the “like” button. We’ve created a culture of pseudo self.

Being does not arise out of buying. We’re all born with the power to be. We have access to that power all our lives. Nothing can take it away from us, but we can be trained to surrender it. We are trained to surrender it, and we do.

Many of us are actively taught from childhood to create a pseudo self. Telling little boys not to cry or play with dolls, telling little girls to be “nice,” telling women to sit down and shut up, telling anyone they should say, believe, eat, vote for, wear, be interested in, or want anything is supporting construction of pseudo self.

However, the pseudo self can be challenged. The iron mask can be broken down and removed. There are people who show us the way to authentic self, but it’s a stony path, because it means challenging the foundations of our culture and beliefs. It means challenging a lifetime of behavior and the expectations of others. It means breaking rules, and most people are not tolerant of those who break rules.

The blog I wrote last week is an example of challenging pseudo self. Think about this. I’m a perfectly ordinary middle aged woman living in central Maine. My stats show I have about one hundred readers. Not even half of those readers know me or have ever met me, and I don’t know them. Only one or two readers have actually commented on the blog, and I have seven subscribers, most of whom are not friends or family.

Yet it took every bit of courage I had to post that blog. I broke just about every rule I’ve lived my life by when I did so. I challenged what I was taught about being attractive, being intelligent, being kind, being nice, being a peacemaker, being womanly. All this because I dropped the mask and expressed my frustration, my anger and my passion and used the word “fuck.” Repeatedly. In front of around one hundred people, most of whom are strangers.

I had a sick stomach and crying jags. I felt panicked and anxious. I didn’t sleep well. I haven’t been able to sit still or relax. For three days, I couldn’t even log on and look at stats and so forth, or do any behind-the-scenes work on the blog.

Letting the iron mask of my pseudo self slip was horrifying, but I also noticed a feeling of relief. The rebel in me celebrated. I dared. I allowed myself to be. I wrote the real truth about how I feel. Everything on the blog is written from the heart, but only the civilized half! The last blog came from a different part of me, the strong survivor part, the primal female part, and that’s the best part of who I am. It’s also the least socially acceptable.

I usually feel like a mess. My life often feels like a cluster fuck, to use my favorite expression.  If that’s too much for you, then substitute car crash, train wreck, or something you feel is more appropriate! I try really, really hard in life and my intentions are wonderful, but I’m not perfect. Not a perfect daughter, mother, sister, friend or partner. Not a perfect writer, blogger or anything else. But I am. I’m someone real. I refuse to live the rest of my life in my iron mask.

At the end of the day, when I’m dead and over, I don’t want a wake, a funeral, a party or a nice obituary. I want someone to be able to say:

“Damn, that woman was real!”

For more on pseudo self, check out this link: http://www.becomingwhoyouare.net/true-selffalse-self-part-2-the-false-self/

I’ve also updated my resources page.

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted