The Curse of Being Perfect

New Year’s resolutions have us thinking about all of our bad habits, all the things that are wrong with us, while resolving to do better. (How many of us have failed already?!)

I was brought up learning that if I was perfect – if I behaved well, pleased my parents, got all As in school, etc. — I could “earn” a little bit of love. Without knowing it, I was developing a core belief in my little brain that I needed to be perfect in order to be loved. (A core belief is one that you hold subconsciously, sometimes for life — if you don’t do emotional work on yourself.) Love from one’s parents being so vital for a child, I soon developed into a perfectionist.

My mother believed, or seemed to believe, that criticism was a form of love, because it made me better (and, God bless her, I’m quite sure she was most critical of herself throughout her life). But perfectionism is not a loving posture. The question that preoccupies the perfectionist is not how relatively well you have been doing, but what is still “wrong” with you!

The positive side is that my parents had high standards that I learned to reach for. And, I must say, I have accomplished some good things as a result of going for it (not to mention experiencing a fair amount of pressure and anxiety). But in terms of loving myself (and others) — which is the most important task in life, after all — my most significant accomplishment is recognizing that unconscious core belief, discrediting it and freeing myself from its tight grip.

In our lonely performance-based culture that thrives on making impressions and getting as much attention as possible, it’s good to remember that you don’t have to earn love in order to feel it, receive it or give it to yourself. You deserved it from the get-go!