Unlearning Perfection

The Abstract Mirror

Unlearning Perfection

Have you ever sat and wondered why you think or believe things should be a certain way?  My whole life I’ve been taught to be and act in certain ways.  Like most people, there are the things you learn from your family and the ideas you pick up from society.  Along the way, you think these things will help you when you grow up.  But does it really?  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that a good portion of the things I’ve learned are really the things I’ve had to unlearn.

For me, I thought I needed to be perfect all the time in every aspect of life.  This belief has stayed with me until most of my 20’s.  I had no idea of the toxic behaviors I had that was hurting me because of that limiting belief.  Even as an adult I would get depressed if things in my life weren’t perfect, I would feel ashamed or embarrassed and ended up becoming completely withdrawn from life.  For several years I sat with this discomfort not knowing what to do with myself.  I tried to exercise thinking that the endorphins would help and stumbled on yoga.  The practice of yoga is really where my journey started into the reflection of myself.  I started meditation and eventually found other healing tools to guide me along the way.

To understand where and who I am, I had to understand what shaped me.  I grew up in an insanely strict household.  Taught to always be at the top of your class in school, play several sports and a musical instrument.  Essentially, I was raised with the notion that I needed to be perfect.  Everything needed to be too absolute perfection and if not, it was seen as a failure.  Worse yet, I was seen as a failure.  As an adult, I grew up and became a perfectionist.  This belief stayed with me for years and I didn’t realize how damaging it had become but it didn’t stop there.

In childhood, I was shown attention when I achieved some level of preset expectation.  If not, I was viewed as a failure.  From this, I picked up the habit of people-pleasing and seeking external validation of my accomplishments.  Throughout my educational pursuits, perfect scores were always demanded.  As if the hard work of learning everything required was not stressful enough, the added stress of not missing any questions or never making any mistakes was a heavyweight to carry.  During the developmental phases of your life, you learn fast.  For me, it was sacrificing my passions, ambitions, and sense of self under the false belief that my parents knew best, that I somehow needed to be perfect.  As an adult, I carried on the same habit of people-pleasing and seeking external validation.  At work, I became a workaholic working regularly 80-90 hours a week to constantly strive for perfection and exceed expectations.  This also happened in relationships as I felt the need to prove that I was worthy.  The unworthiness I felt from feeling like a failure because I thought I needed to be perfect was detrimental to how I had lived my life.

On top of all of that, there were societal ideals on perfection to be supermodel-like with unrealistic beauty standards.  This all just felt so insanely overwhelming for me.  I felt like no matter what I did, there was no way to keep up.  I could acknowledge that there wasn’t much I could do to change my physical attributes, but I still felt like an outsider not living up to what society told me I needed to be like.  Then with my family, I felt like I had let them all down by not living up to their measuring stick.  At work, I was burned out and exhausted working all the time.  This struggle took me to an extremely dark place in my life.  Wondering why I was ever born, was my purpose only to be here in life as a failure.

Amid my self-loathing pity party, the best advice I got was, “fuck it, fuck it all”.  The brilliance behind this helped me to stop looking at what satisfied other people and start to focus on what satisfied me.  Who was I?  What did I want?  What kind of things did I enjoy doing for me?  What were the things I was passionate about?  Little by little, I had to unlearn the idea that I needed to be perfect.  I had to unlearn the associated behaviors and habits of people-pleasing and seeking external validation.  I started doing things for me.  I started doing the things I enjoyed.  I started to focus on what brought me joy and what I was passionate about.  Along the way, I felt happier, I felt more fulfilled but deep down I still felt far from perfect and still could not understand why with all the changes I had made in my life.

Then one day it dawned on me, after several dozen self-help books, an exploration into yoga, meditation, and an array of traditional and nontraditional healing modalities.  After spending years of my life unlearning toxic beliefs, habits, and patterns around needing to be perfect in all aspects of my life.  It all came down to self-love.  To see and acknowledge for myself that I did not need to be perfect.  I had to fully believe, feel, and know this for myself.  It went way beyond; do I love the person I see in the mirror?  For me, learning to love my imperfect self, started with re-parenting the younger versions of myself.  Going back to where the conditioning started and seeing where the hurt and pain shaped my personality.  Learning to love my imperfect self, meant I needed to figure out who I was, outside of who I thought I needed to be.  For me learning to love myself meant stepping into my true essence and embracing my uniqueness.  It was only from a place of true self-love to see the beauty in imperfection.  There is liberation in knowing the idea of perfection is completely unattainable.  The heaviest burden I stopped carrying was the one my family and society placed on me, to let go of my need for perfection and to embrace the person I am.  In the words of Haruki Murakami, “the fact that I’m me and no one else is one of my greatest assets”.  Today I can say that I believe that but it took years of unlearning who I thought I needed to be to get here.


Written by:  Regina W.

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