It was no use. He didn’t believe me.

“No Dad, really. I did make all E’s.” (like A’s today).

And if it wasn’t for Bob Haas telling the teacher I wrote on his report card, I would have had the money. Way to go, Bob!

Okay, I shouldn’t have done it, but the mere idea of having $5.00 got to my 10-year-old head.

Not a lot of money today, but back when gasoline was 27 cents a gallon and stamps were 4 cents. Well, you do the math.

It takes years to learn some lessons. I learned Perfectionism was exhausting and this is how I stopped.

How I became a perfectionist

It wasn’t just the report card incident that brought me over to the other side. I believe there were other factors in play.

One manifested every time we sat down to dinner.

Just once it would have been nice to have heard my dad praise mom who worked hard and took care of us five kids, six if you count dad.

She’d put this wonderful smelling food on the table with hope in her large brown eyes. But she never heard, “Good meal.”

Instead she would hear, “It needed a little more salt,” or “You know what I would have done?”

Yes, dad was a cook too, but that shouldn’t have mattered. Praise can help motivate people to keep going. Critical comments stifle.

Sometimes we learn from watching others. But sometimes we think we’ll be different and we repeat patterns.

I watched as my six-year old daughter, Jessica fixed her bed. It was pretty close but not quite there. So I would redo it. More concerned at the moment about how things looked than how some people felt.

It would be later I would see that my correcting her was no different than what my dad did to my mom.

You can’t wear that!

I kind of smile when I see my granddaughter’s choice of outfits. She has a wonderful mother who lets her express herself. I smile, but I also cringe.
For my daughter did not have the same freedom. I was too worried what others might think. Just so you know, I have apologized. Many times.

We had no choices with what we wore to school, or anywhere for that matter. All our decisions were made.

I did not see a pattern, nor did I think for a moment that I was becoming my parents. After all, I didn’t wield a belt at my kids like he did for us. I didn’t erupt in rage.

No, I was not like him at all. Except in some ways I was.

I’m not sure why we relax down through the years. Why it’s okay for my grandchildren to make more noise than I allowed my own kids to make.

Maybe we finally realize some things are not that important.

Looking perfect

I remember when I had to have every hair in place, and I required the same thing for my kids.

Outwardly, we looked like everything was fine. Inwardly it wasn’t.

Maybe that’s why I became obsessed with appearances. I knew there were things out of my control, so I found something I could control.

Every hair in place, check.
Clothes without stains and wrinkles, check.
Smiles in place, check.

They weren’t real smiles, but they would do.

I’ve Got a Secret

Remember the show from years ago, where there would be a contestant and he would sign in and only the audience could see what his secret was. His job was to fool the panel of three celebrities. And if he/she succeeded they would win a cash prize.

I think people from dysfuntional families would do well on that show. They have a lot of secrets.

Things that go on that no one knows about. Addictions in the house, or emotional problems, “ …which are no one else’s business, so don’t talk about them to anyone.”

Yes, people from dysfunctional families learn how to hide things well.

Coping mechanisms

The only problem is that things we did to cope growing up, no longer worked when we reached adulthood.

I got good at smiling all the time. Even if I was hurting inside. So good in fact, that I didn’t even know I was incongruent, which means what you see on the outside doesn’t match your true feelings.

I just got finished speaking to a support group. I felt pretty good about it and a counselor who had been in the audience gave me some feedback.

“I noticed something I’d like to mention,” she said “When you talked about some pretty sad experiences in your life, you were still smiling.”

I thought about why I would have done that and realized it immediately. Not only was I a perfectionist, I was also a caretaker. And if I was going to share something painful, I didn’t want the audience to feel bad, so I smiled.

But instead, I appeared disconnected. Probably because for that moment I was.

Time for change

Discovering I was incongruent, I had a decision to make. Would I keep doing that, or would I work on it?

I tried to get in tune with my feelings more.

I joined a group therapy because when your family of origin was dysfunctional, it helps to work things out in a safe environment with a group of people and a trained counselor.

I did affirmations which are sentences that help you understand what your thoughts are. I realized I had been living a limited life. Limited by my authoritarian parents, but when they died, I found someone to take over, to keep me in line. Who did I find? Me.

Affirmations are great. I kept writing them over and over to eventually reprogram my faulty thinking.

They were very basic.

I have the right to be happy.
I have the right to not like everyone.
I have the right to be angry.

Some affirmations were harder for me than others. I did not feel I had the right to be angry. That right seemed reserved for my rage-filled dad. And when you have a person who rages, everyone steps back, or runs. We ran.

One affirmation was especially difficult for me. The one that would challenge my perfectionism.

The right to make mistakes

When I verbalized that I had to do things perfectly, I was told I had the right to make mistakes. I think I responded, “No I don’t.”

My counselor just proved she had no idea how confining my household was. There was no room for errors.

I remember coming home one day to ask about a word I heard at school.

“Mom, what’s a bastard?”

“Well, now you’ve done it. I was going to take you shopping with me, but now you’re not going.”

I might have gotten soap in my mouth, maybe not. Missing out on a shopping trip with my mom, was punishment enough. And she never did explain what the word meant.

I found great freedom writing out:

I have the right to make mistakes.
I have the right to make mistakes.
I have the right to make mistakes.

What’s more important is I started believing those things.

I remember as an adult making the decision to leave a couple dishes in the sink before going to bed. No one gave me grief over this, it was self imposed>

That first time was really difficult, but I did it. And I found I could do it again and again. Growth.

Perfectionism vs. excellence

I met him at church. He was a doctor and very nice, but there was something about him that got to me. He seemed critical.

He made the statement, “God wants us to be perfect.”

I responded, “I don’t agree.”

He was unhappy that I challenged him, but I went on and explained my view.

“I believe we can strive for excellence. That God wants us to do our best. but we are not striving for perfection.”

He quoted the verse where we’re told that we are to be perfect, and I shared that it meant to be mature.

I wasn’t going to convince him, because he was convinced he was right. The victory was, it didn’t matter to me.

In working through my issues, I had come to realize it was not my job to correct people and get them to see things my way.

My Bible teacher once told me, “Anne, the position of being perfect has already been filled.”

I gasped, but I did hear her.

One more trick

I found another thing that helped me in my recovery from perfection. It was admitting something I had never really admitted.

Four little words that I learned to say to open up the metal mind that had become mine.

“I could be wrong.”

Even today I laugh when I’m talking with my daughter and I find the need to say those words. At first, they felt forced, but that was okay. I was learning how to reprogram my mind from a lot of faulty thinking.

Just saying, “I could be wrong,” helps.

You see, before, I would state something as if it were set in stone, immovable.

Now I have learned. I am not perfect, I have the right to make mistakes, and I could be wrong.

It’s taken me a lifetime, but I think I’ve succeeded.

Hi, my name is Anne Peterson and I am a recovering perfectionist.

 

Visit Anne at AnnePeterson.com and see more of her work here