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An Ode to Being Imperfect

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

“There is a story of a father who pointed to his paraplegic son and railed at God for his imperfect child. God’s reply came: “Seek perfection in your reactions, not in your son’s physical makeup.” The real message here is that we, as human beings, must accept the fact that we are imperfect and that is alright.

Kristin Neff, author of a must read book called “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? There are many theories that attempt to explain this. One is that the perfectionist is really very insecure and believes that he or she is not good enough. In other words, there is a lot of self judgment in those who seek perfection.

Another way of looking at this is to suggest that the perfectionist is compensating 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 not achievable for anyone.

The problem is that we are caught in a very competitive society that demands constant productivity. While society does not demand perfection it does reward those who strive for it. However, in striving for perfection we run into nothing but self hatred, frustration and depression because it’s impossible to be perfect.

As Tara Brach points out in her wonderful book, “Radical Acceptance,” “There is something wonderfully bold and liberating about saying yes to our entire 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 wholeheartedly say yes to our life as it is.”

Unless we give perfectionism a totally bad reputation it does have a good side to it. In so far as it motivates people to do the very best they can, it has advantages. Striving to achieve and setting high standards for yourself can be a productive and healthy trait. However, once a persons’s sense of well being and self-esteem are based on being perfect then there is nothing but unhappiness. Neff points out that the perfectionist are at great risk of developing eating disorders, anxiety, depression and other emotional problems.

If you really stop and think about it, it’s really a relief to accept being imperfect  it’s OK to be imperfect and to be the way we are.

Your comments are encouraged.

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