Recovering from Perfectionism with the help of the Ancestors
My relationship with my Ancestors has been a wonderful support system, as I work through all the beautiful, complex nuances and challenges of being a human. In one of my more recent life lessons as an ancestor returning, I found myself in the depths of potent work around perfectionism and I feel compelled to share that lesson in this post. So here goes…….
In my personal lived experience, perfectionism has been a luxury, an armor and an illness all in one. The pursuit of perfection in many points of my life forced me into stagnation, required me to play small, fed on my wounds of worthiness and devoured one of my most precious and non-renewable resource: time. At this point in my life I’m sure that I’ve spent years worth of time chasing perfection on many levels (physical, mental, spiritual, emotional…ect). Years (pause) yes, literally years of time that I don’t get back, years of time that came from my finite allotment of time in this incarnation which only the ancestors and Creator know the remaining balance.
In my most stressful experiences with perfectionism, I often times found myself in conversations with perfectionism that went something like this “If you can’t do something perfect especially something that you’re passionate about, then you don’t need to do it at all” or “If you do this thing perfectly, you will be loved and worthy and feel a sense of belonging”. Sound familiar? In many of these tiring pursuits, things rarely turned out perfect and on the few occasions that things seemed perfect, the brief highs of achieving my ever-changing ideals of perfection were temporary, fleeting and left me craving more. As one pursuit wound down and endlessly flowed into another, I often found myself depleted and deep in a time and worthiness deficit because the love and worthiness I was seeking never fully arrived. Throughout all of these pursuits, there never seemed to be a point at which true perfect was achieved and as I sprinted from one thing to the next, so much time was lost.
As an armor, perfectionism shielded me from being vulnerable, from connection and from the deepest and fullest parts of my soul that craved vulnerability, authenticity and connection with life. It shielded me from the depths of my being that knew that I belonged here on earth and the deep truth that I belonged to my people. This armor that I carried with such righteousness and pride, rendered me unavailable for the presence that was needed to witness let alone participate in the spontaneous and miraculous unfolding of each moment. Under the weight of this armor, there was no space for flow and flexibility. Rationality and rigidity were at the helm and in the moments that highlighted my under-developed capacities to be nimble, I found comfort in the socialized morality of their presence. As I worked to diligently peel back the layers of this armor, one of most dangerous and disturbing aspect of this armor I’ve found, has been its capacity to be totally invisible to the wearer (in this case me). How do you dismantle something that you cannot see? For me, this part of the process has been the most painful because it has required me to fully acknowledge the parts of my identity and being that had become rooted in and reliant on this armor. I’ve been forced to unearth and to reconcile with the mysterious and beautiful parts of myself that were tucked beneath the armor of perfectionism.
As an illness, perfectionism pushed me into fatigue, illness, injuries and exhaustion. It fed me the illusion that I needed to override the wisdom of my body which told me over and over again that it needed rest and nourishment. It fed me further illusions that if I looked a certain way, life would be easy, I would be worthy of love and that I would feel a true sense of belonging. For many years of high school and college I devoured that illusion instead of food. This was my gate-way drug, it introduced me to the more illicit drugs of criticism, lying, judgment, disconnection and disregard not only for myself but also for others.
The pursuit of perfection devours time and thrives on the isolation of one from the greater web of life. - Tamira Cousett
My well ancestors have been balm for my wounding around perfectionism. They have both helped and challenged me to remove the pieces of this armor that I carry with un-ending love and firmness. They continue to give me many reality checks about the true price tag of this luxury and lovingly reinforce over and over again that the pursuit of perfection devours time and thrives on the isolation of one from the greater web of life. In the clarity of their wisdom they’ve help me perceive the presence of rigidity layered into perfectionism, a rigidity rooted in colonialism and further illusions of control and separation. From their wisdom, I have come to see how throughout our culture the illusion of perfection reinforces the beliefs that at some point, when you achieve perfection, you will have total control, dominion or superiority over something..less emphasis on being relational and more emphasis on total domination (hello colonialism). Within the layers of control, I’ve also witnessed the layers of separation, which thrive on the beliefs that, that which you are seeking to embody, to cultivate and deepen connection with is somehow outside of you and that in some ways you are disconnected from it.
In addition to expanding my awareness around the illusion of perfectionism, my Ancestors continue to hold me in a study of the ritualized language of perfectionism, nuanced language which upholds the conditions for perfectionism to exist, language that vibrationally and energetically feeds the rituals of perfection and further rituals of disconnect. In my study, I have become very aware my conditioned reinforcement of the language of perfectionism, language that has no space for being relational, language that reinforces the hard push to drill it in, get it “right”, to conquer. In my professional life as a chemist, I’d been taught and eventually used this language to uphold the value of my work through questioning, de-valuing of fellow scientists bodies of work when their policies/procedures were outside of my own and/or deemed irrational by my senior colleagues. Dr. Kim TallBear has a short talk on whiteness/rationality in the scientific community here which mirrors my experience of perfectionism in the scientific communities I’ve been a part of. (Shout out to my lovely friend Kim Kay for that resource).
My Ancestors wisdom on this type of language has taught me that practice does not make perfect, especially when I am holding my practice in the energy dynamics of being relational to that which I seek proficiency with rather than in the energy dynamics of dominating that skill. They’ve helped me to have greater clarity that practice has actually helped me to become skillful and that in truth is what I’ve always been hungry for….being skillful which requires a great degree of being relational. Recognition of the deeper call to be skillful has required me to be open to the unfolding of what is afoot, to meet those moments and opportunities with vulnerability, authenticity and a beginner’s mind, not what is expected, what is rehearsed or in the pursuit of perfection. In the depths of my studies, I have come to believe that many of us desire to move beyond the confines of perfection and into being relational with that which we are practicing and to be truly relational with all aspects of ourselves. We are hungry to attune ourselves to our gifts and to allow those gifts to flow through us in ways of expression that are both authentic and unique.
I have come to both see and know that many of the those that I once held in the light of perfection were not and are not perfect. Many of those people were and are practiced at being relational with their crafts and in a space of sacred reciprocity with that which they are engaged. They are skillful at listening and being present for the mystery of each moment and embodying their gifts in equal measure such that their gifts may be expressed within the mystery of each moment with authenticity and vulnerability. This is what I am calling in for myself and I now after 33 years, I’m finally clear on that.
May we all be gifted the opportunity to have deep and fierce clarity for that which we are calling in for ourselves and for the world at large. May we all have the courage to shed the armor of perfectionism.
In Grace & Clarity,
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