As long as I can remember I've been a perfectionist.

Perfectionism as far as I can tell is not my natural state. Some people are born with the insatiable need to set the world to order and make everything as symmetric as possible; one of my friends in high school would take an entire bag of skittles, pour it out, line the candies up by color, then eat the extras until each color had the same amount and then eat them, in order.

I'm more of the scorched earth kind of person myself. Hell, I'm a Sagitarrius and even if you don't buy into all of the astrology stuff being a fire sign suits me. I'm fickle, tend to burn too bright and too hot and then get too cold, and almost nothing I do has a clean edge. Perfect is not a word in my natural vocabulary.

But I am, nonetheless, a perfectionist.

So this weekend ended up being kind of a watershed moment for me. Chris and I got into an argument (all of our arguments start the same way btw, with my own insecurities) about why I had thus far been unable to accomplish as much in the household as we had both hoped. This is a recurring feature of our life together because, honestly, I suck at cleaning.

Actually, suck is too kind of a word. I half-heartedly attempt to clean, then wipe out all of my own progress, unconsciously.

I don't plan to make the mess worse than before, I just do.

This particular iteration of the "Chris brings it up, Mel feels awful, Mel strikes back, Chris gets upset" cycle happened while sitting in front of a local restaurant on Saturday. I don't know how we got there, but during this set Chris had his own major realization about why.

Why, in this case, turned out to be my complete lack of mental tools needed to get the job done. I have no critical thinking skills to speak of, no process planning skills, and no quality control skills. I know things go wrong, but I never do the necessary steps to determine the problem and fix the process. So each time something goes wrong, I feel utterly helpless and like an utter failure. Add in ADHD complete with its memory glitches and nothing ever gets better. It should be noted, this is a failure in the mental process far before where most organizational systems pick up so my years of trying to organize my life didn't do a damn thing.

Right now he's working on teaching me the necessary skills for process planning and analysis while adapting what he knows for use with my particular flavor of ADHD. We've started with the Deming Cycle (plan-do-study-act) and we're going from there.

That brings us to today. Chris is at work, I'm attempting to take care of the items on my to-do list (and failing horribly) but also adding in the Deming Cycle, specifically the part where I study. I study why things didn't go the way I'd planned and identify a possible solution.

So far today I'd managed to take two different problems and apply those steps. The first problem, losing 2 hours of time to a case of overfocus, I was unable to fix on the spot. However, I've come up with a plan to keep it from happening again. The second problem I managed to fix during the process. I left Walmart craving Taco Bell for lunch and, instead of just buy it, I identified why the craving existed and elected instead to stop at Safeway for a healthier lunchtime dose of crunchy/salty/creamy in the form of homemade tacos (much cheaper and satisfying long run).

That brought me to the afternoon and my review of my to-do list.

One item on my to-do list stuck out and haunted me. Call the bank and get the debit cards fixed.

See, when the IRS fucked up our accounts our debit cards for our household and Chris's personal accounts got canceled. I need to call and get new cards issued.

I don't want to do it. So I sat there trying to force myself to pick up the phone and call the number, all the while playing the theoretical conversation in my head.

"Sorry, I need new debit cards because the IRS seized our bank accounts and I couldn't fix it for months. Please send us new cards."

It stopped being "didn't want to call" and started being "terrified of calling."

This terror was the hangup in my PDSA cycle. I needed to study the problem and determine the best solution.

An hour later I'd managed to make my waterproof mascara run. I started bawling the moment I realized what I was feeling.

* * *

Terror. Terror of admitting my faults to another person, no matter how much a stranger.

I asked myself, what do I think will happen? That if they know the IRS screwed us over and I'm just now fixing it that the knowledge of my screw ups alone will kill me? Will they think I'm a bad person that deserves to be destroyed? Do I really think a stranger will kill me because of a mistake?

Honestly, yes. Deep down I think any imperfection is a death sentence.

I remember Saturday sitting in the truck, Chris having his "aha" moment, and me sobbing about how terrified I was of him finding out how flawed and inadequate I am. Terror that if he ever figures it out, I will be cast aside because I'm imperfect. Nevermind that he's figured that out many times over and I'm still here, it's the fear that rules me.

Terror that the banker on the phone will kill me once they know. Terror that admitting I'm wrong is worthy of an execution. Terror terror terror.

So I shut off the TV, put down the computer, went upstairs, kicked the dogs out of the bedroom, closed the door, and laid down in the silence to contemplate why.

Smart phones can be dangerous, but helpful, tools. I couldn't figure out why my perfectionism was so intense, and why it existed, so I started looking for answers. One quote stopped me in my mental tracks:

I'd been looking for a decision I'd made, or a fatal character flaw in my search for the root of my perfectionism. I'd been looking too high in the mental process.
Oh, I knew my upbringing had a lot to do with the perfectionism. However, I'd always put it in terms of something I'd thought of, a decision I had come to, a way of looking at the world that I'd developed from a lack of complete info.

A sense is something else entirely.

The same article goes on to say:

Perfectionism, then, is a relational issue and not something that arises solely on its own or within a person. There are several environments in which perfectionism can arise, but they all share the sense that acceptance, or harmony, or safety within the family, are dependent on how a family member performs.
Freeing our families from perfectionism is less about finding the right thing to do, and more about creating an environment of acceptance. Of course, it is also important to challenge our children, and ourselves, to reevaluate our beliefs and change our behaviors. Its important to be clear that we love our children whatever they do or do not accomplish. They should know that mistakes are a part of everyone's life and that these mistakes can always form a basis for learning. All of the behavioral and cognitive interventions we can think of to help our children will become most useful in an environment in which their feeling of acceptance is secure. Absent this, explaining to a perfectionistic child that she needn't worry so much is simply heard as one more criticism.
This was enough to dredge up decades of pain and bring it all to the forefront.

I grew up in a household that, for a myriad of reasons, did not show love in ways that I understood innately. I can see the proof of love now, with an adult perspective, but I did not see it then. 

Out of the 5 love languages (Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch) I only innately understood words and touch. "I love you" was a phrase never heard in my household growing up, and for some reason both of my parents feared showing physical affection. Actually, both my parents feared quite a lot and were perfectionists in their own right.

I was starved for a sense of love and affection so I went looking for both, all of the time. The only thing I could do that kinda sorta worked was do something well, and maybe get some praise out of it. Words of praise were scant, but they did happen. Unfortunately praise was usually followed with criticism so I spent most of my time starved for emotional connection. In school I ended up an outcast; that didn't help. As for church, well... my religious training was overly evangelistic. Too much emphasis on what you needed to do to go to heaven and who was going to hell, and very little emphasis on God's love. If you're taught that even God won't let you into heaven unless you're really really good, perfect stops being an ideal and starts being a survival strategy. On a deeply emotional level I became convinced love and acceptance come from good works and pleasing the other person and nothing else.

I made such awesome abuser bait. A bit of affection and some pretty words were all it took. Extra bonus points if my pathetic neediness and groveling pleased them at all.

* * *

Boyfriend 0 couldn't keep me, he was long distance. Boyfriend 1 couldn't keep me either; I'm a natural submissive and he couldn't dominate worth a crap. Boyfriend 2 left me broken hearted; he cheated on me. I know now it's because, at that time, I didn't really exist as a person to him. I still thought it was my fault (after all, I was responsible for whether or not someone accepted me). 

That big breakup happened while I was away at college, and during this time my parents sold my childhood home and moved. I got relegated to a cot in a living room. No arrangements made for me whatsoever, and no sense of roots or family cohesiveness to keep me there.

Boyfriend 0 started looking really, really good at that point, and all it took was some pretty words of love and a promise of acceptance. I was off to a foreign country to get married.

Wait, that's not the whole story. In a weird transition time between deciding to get married and actually doing so, I met Jose.

I'd picked up a temp job while living with my best friend's family (also temporary). I met Jose working the graveyard shift at a manufacturing plant. There was something about him, and we hit it off (I now know it was self-confidence and ambition, both of which draw me like a moth to a flame). One day the fledgling friendship turned into something more hot and heavy. We both insisted it was just "a thing" and it didn't mean anything. Even though we were spending more and more time together and sleep was a distant memory. It didn't help that he'd opened with "I don't believe in love or marriage."

I still planned to leave and get married.

There was a moment (actually more than a few moments) he could have gotten me to stay. I really wanted to stay, and he kept talking about how I should stay, for all of those *other* people in my life. He'd even been trying to get other people to convince me to stay, as I found out later. But he wouldn't say the words "I want you to stay" or "I love you". At that point I had such low self-esteem that even triggering the sub in me by simply saying "Stay" would have worked. But he wouldn't say the words.

So I packed up my bags and left for Canada to go be with abusive first husband like I'd already planned.

Still one of the top 10 stupidest things I've ever done. But the perfectionist in me couldn't stand the thought of destroying my original plan or re-evaluating my assumptions or displeasing someone for whom my pleasing them filled an emotional need.

The good part of what happened with Jose? Even though I ended up losing one of the best friends I'd ever had over my decision to go anyway, the memory of how well he treated me is what pulled me out of my abusive first marriage. Even if it wasn't "love" (and I will now debate that until the ends of the earth) he still treated me like a human being.

14 months after leaving my ex-husband, I met Chris and got my needs to love and be loved and submit in a good healthy way met. Being a sub stopped being a way to get abused and started being a way to heal instead, and I finally felt fully accepted (or as much as I could anyway.)

I still lived in terror that one day he would see me for who I really was and cast me out. After all, if I'm not perfect, I might lose that acceptance. Or at least that's what the deepest, most primal part of me still thought.

* * *

If "The root of perfectionism is a sense of conditional acceptance.", it seems the solution and cure isn't to treat the symptom that is perfectionism (although many, many people have tried). The solution is to change the base premise of acceptance being conditional.

I must change my sense of acceptance to something unconditional and unchanging.

First off, I need to change my sense of God's love to something unconditional and my sense of entry to heaven to something New Testament instead of Old. I must change salvation by works to salvation by love. This shouldn't be too difficult; Grace has now entered my life enough times to beat me over the head with God's unconditional love. Given the number of times God has pulled my ass out of the fire His love can't possible be based on my being perfect (or even competent).

Second, I need to hammer into my own heart that even should the rest of the world shun me tomorrow, I will still live and be okay because I accept me. I am there for myself no matter what, and I can depend on myself no matter what.

If I wouldn't say it to anyone else, I can't say it to myself. If I wouldn't hold anyone else to the same standards, I can't hold myself to those standards. If I can declare someone else's work good and correct despite errors, I can do the same for mine. If I can look past someone else's mistakes, I can look past mine.

If I can love and accept someone else despite their faults, I can love and accept myself despite my faults.

Maybe then I can cure my perfectionism. At the very least life will suck much, much less.


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