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Rarely There

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

untying the constant knot in my stomach

I admit that I saw myself as a striving perfectionist, being proud of it as if it were a virtue so noble and lofty that not all can live up to it. I am glad I am growing out of it.

Perfectionism is not perfect - it can often serve as a valuable lens through which to understand a variety of seemingly unrelated mental difficulties, from depression to compulsive behavior to addiction, apparently, according to this NYT article. Wha..? What? I had asked myself the first time I encountered this school of thought.

But, being good at a few things is not the problem, it is when one tries to be good at everything one does that it becomes a problem:
"It's natural for people to want to be perfect in a few things, say in their job — being a good editor or surgeon depends on not making mistakes," said Gordon L. Flett, a psychology professor at York University and an author of many of the studies. "It's when it generalizes to other areas of life, home life, appearance, hobbies, that you begin to see real problems."

Based on the following classification, I am the classic Type One mentioned here:
Some researchers divide perfectionists into three types, based on answers to standardized questionnaires:
  1. Self-oriented strivers who struggle to live up to their high standards and appear to be at risk of self-critical depression;
  2. outwardly focused zealots who expect perfection from others, often ruining relationships;
  3. and those desperate to live up to an ideal they’re convinced others expect of them, a risk factor for suicidal thinking and eating disorders.

I never thought twice about it as long as I was single, a student, a free-spirit, doing what I wanted, and doing it as well as I can. I was too absorbed to notice the constant knot I had in my stomach those days.

And then, marriage and motherhood happened. Things seemed to start going out of control somehow. I broke down completely triggered by post-partum blues when my infant baby girl watched uncomprehendingly. Shocked that motherhood didn't come effortlessly as I had thought, and overwhelmed at having to work full-time outside of home without much societal/environmental support, I unhinged and came apart easily.

Adding to it was my personal experience with fellow females I encountered in my life: for some reason, the women I came across after my student life were constantly judging and trying to one-up each other, there was no sense of sorority. And once I became a mom, it got worse. My fears about joining Mother's groups and such seemed validated time and time again - be it subtle criticisms of mothering choices, or even the eternal debate about stay-at-home vs. work-outside-home mothers, I came to realize I was alone if I had to remain sane and do it the best way I can.

Dealing with my own insecurities and irrepressible ego, it began to slowly dawn on me that in this wonderful journey, we can expect a lot from others and be disappointed, or expect a lot from oneself and get wound up... -OR- take what each day has to offer, grateful to be alive and surrounded by loved ones. Eventually, adulation and achievement are fickle and subjective.

Antara Shaucham
(inner cleanliness) is just as important as Bahya Shaucham (outer cleanliness). Just as my personal likes and dislikes leads to desires and prejudices in the outside world, it also manages to create self-criticism, guilt and self-condemnation if allowed to reign unchecked.

Freeing the mind of envy, pride, fear, guilt and such negative energies that enervate is the first step towards untying this knot I managed to create in my stomach... and I am light-years away from putting it to practice in any consistent manner.



Blogger Dale said...

Oh! You express it so beautifully.

Yes, and yes, and yes. I hit a crisis point a few years ago when I realized that by being willing to do only things I was good at, I was resigning myself to a kind of mental death. That I absolutely had to spend some time doing things I was mediocre at, even bad at. It was so hard, and still is!

Parenthood takes us all down a peg or two. There's just no way to please everybody. Sometimes there's no way to please anybody :-)

9:25 PM  
Blogger Sheela said...

long time... good to see you here, Dale!

2:07 PM  

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