I grew up in a family where the beautiful, nice, neat and put together were praised while all ugly was brushed under the rug because nobody knew what to do with it. Sound familiar? A lot of people I know had a similar upbringing. Maybe it’s normal; but I’ve learned normal isn’t always healthy.
Had you come to our home, you would’ve been met with smiling faces. My siblings and I would’ve stuck out our hand to introduce ourselves and greeted you by Mr. or Mrs. your last name. We had been instructed ahead of time to be inclusive and play well with your children, and we always did. We were told to ask 3 questions of each guest, to learn to show genuine interest in others, my parents hoped.
Had you walked around our house you would’ve seen the shine blazing on freshly mopped and polished floors. You would’ve seen beautiful family pictures plastered down hallways and staircases. If you used the restroom you would’ve noticed there wasn’t a single watermark on the mirror or a trace of trash in the trashcan. On bookshelves you would find that even the farthest corner on the highest shelf, no spec of dust could be found. A swipe of your finger may have even left it cleaner than it was previously, as residue from Pledge Lemon Spray gave your hand a citrus scent.
So much of what was modeled to my siblings and I was beautiful and most importantly, done so with good intentions. I’ve taken many life lessons from my parents and passed them down to my own children. Like most parents, mine did their best and were well-meaning.
But I’d be lying if I said the tendency towards perfectionism I was raised in, didn’t mess with me.
In fact, it controlled me.
I spent 15 years of my life living the most miserable existence: the one of a control-freak.
Bumps in my pony tail? I cried and begged my mom to fix it. In fact, I demanded it. If she didn’t, I wouldn’t leave my room. I wasn’t the best on the team? I would quit. I was breaking out? I would cancel plans. When I wasn’t as prepared for the talent show as I had hoped? I backed out on my friend, leaving her to sing alone. People let me down? I cut them out of my life. Someone helped me with chores and didn’t do them “right”? I harbored immense amounts of irritation towards them and eagerly awaited them leaving so I could fix their foolish mistakes. I didn’t have time to do my makeup? I would wait in the car while friends or family went shopping, even though I wanted or needed to go too. A boyfriend wasn’t perfect? He got scolded on how to do things to my standard.
I was a hot mess.
Most would probably look at that and say “wow, she sounds like a spoiled brat.” You wouldn’t be wrong, I was a brat. But more than that, I know the girl I was in my younger years was so broken and felt so unworthy, she had to make her life seem perfect to compensate.
She always had a good heart underneath it. She was deeply compassionate and extraordinarily empathetic. If you were crying, she would be the first to notice and come sit with you in your pain. She had immense love for people and was always elated, seeing others succeed.
But most of the time, she couldn’t make what was in her heart translate into reality. Her fear of unworthiness was crippling.
Adults and peers alike thought she was a broken, rebellious teenager who needed more lectures and discipline.
But she didn’t.
She needed to know even in her mess, her brokenness and God forbid, her imperfection, she was okay. That she was loved and she was worthy, even still. That was a message that was missing from childhood.
To overcompensate, she became a perfectionistic, control-freak. Trying to force the worthiness she thought she had to earn. Scurrying around, she gave all of her time and energy to creating an illusion – that she was perfect. Scorned was the person or situation that dared mess up and expose her for what she really was: a horribly insecure girl who didn’t feel good enough.
Over the course of several years, a few soul-shattering rockbottom experiences, a few thousand dollars spent on therapy, failed relationships, lost and redeemed friendships, mentors, prayer and healing, I’m happy to say I’m no longer that girl. In fact, I’ve become so “chill” sometimes my brain can barley reconcile the fact that I used to be her.
The process to find freedom is different for everyone.
The most substantial thing that changed me was hitting rockbottom… multiple times. Dare I say, it beat perfectionism out of me. Building myself up from the lowest, darkest places I’ve ever been, opened my eyes to my own value. I saw myself fight like hell for healing and I saw myself succeed. I saw how strong of a person I was, that even when faced with all that suffering and misery, I didn’t let it harden my heart or strip away my hope. In fact, my suffering made me a much more gentle and gracious human being whose natural empathy soared to even greater heights. I became someone who I am so proud of now.
Without hitting rockbottom, I would’ve never been given the opportunity I needed to build a healthy self-esteem. I would’ve continued on, feeling like a fraud and feeling unworthy. Of suffocating the life out of everyone around me if they couldn’t carry the impossible weight of the bricks required, to build my wall of perfectionism. The wall I needed to keep myself safe.
Life tends to keep cycling us through the same places until we’ve learned what we need, in order to move forward. I hope for you, you don’t need to go as low as rockbottom – like I did multiple times – to finally learn that lesson. But if you do, just know, you will be okay. If you press into the process and learn what you need, you’ll flourish way beyond what most would expect.
You’ll look back on a place that once provoked such misery that you didn’t know if you could survive, and you’ll be able to say: so long rockbottom and thanks for saving my life.