Perfectionism

Is any thing, person or object perfect? Probably not, although there may be one possible exception: an infant. They smell so nice, look absolutely remarkable, most often have been fastidiously sculpted in their total smallness, and, God willing, have all their parts working as anticipated. Not only that, these little creatures do what they are supposes to do. By that I mean they are congruent, or harmonious with their surroundings and act accordingly.

For example, when they are hungry, hurt, cold, too hot, frightened, or whatever they may be, each condition has a distinctive cry or signal which beckons attention from mother or care giver. When they need to produce a bowel movement, they do, no matter where they are or who may be present. Clothed or not, they are satisfied, as long as they are comfortable. All of this is to say that they are completely trusting, as long as we are trustable, and sometimes when we are not.

If listened to attentively, all their cries match a particular need. Their sounds are a perfectly synchronized symphony deftly conducted solely by their being. They don’t have to think about any of it! Remarkable! Infants are not self conscious, experience no embarrassment and have no call for defensiveness. They are completely accepting, as long as they are accepted, and most of the time even when they are not. Fundamentally, they do not know how to reject, although they do know how to “say” no. Who they are and what they are isn’t clouded by notions of being something or someone else. In short, they are totally congruent.

It is not that they know who they are, for they have no need for such a concept. In fact, for all they know, they are us, and we are them. The question is, would we not all be better off, if, in our daily lives we could be more like the infant? I suspect so. For it seems to me that being like an infant is tantamount to perfection. In order to do that , however, we have to rethink our adult version of perfection. Let us first examine some definitions of the word perfect, and their implications.Perfection Defined Perfect is defined as “being without defect or blemish,” “completely suited for a particular purpose or situation,” “pure,” “excellent and delightful in all respects.” It is notable that none of these definitions claims that perfection has anything to do with happiness. Nor do any imply that perfection means never making a mistake. How, then, can “being without blemish or defect” have any application to human beings? In a material sense it cannot. However, in a systemic and spiritutal sense it can apply. In an open family or marital system, for example, the system by definition will at some point for any number of reasons, malfunction.

The parts or elements of the system, the people in this case, experience the malfunction as a “problem,” or “conflict.” When that happens, the system must address the issue. An open and flexible system resolves the problem or conflict through appropriate, healthy measures. Following the definition “completely suited for a particular purpose or situation,” we can say the system has operated “perfectly,” that is, it has functioned exactly as it is supposed to; it has functioned in the manner for which it is completely suited.

Our typical adult version of perfection varies remarkably from the former. We tend to think of perfection as never making a mistake, always being completely happy, or never having difficult emotions like rage, hurt, jealousy or the like, or never being dishonest. To subscribe to that definition is to subscribe to failure, for there is no way to avoid those and stay healthy. When we make a mistake, how often do we say, “I’m only human–can’t expect me to be perfect.” In one sense, that’s true. However, if we understand the definition “completely suited for a particular purpose or situation,” the notion of perfectionism is then de-pathologized, and perfection becomes attainable.

It seems to me that when we attempt to link perfection and life, we are really saying that if life were perfect it would not be so painful, or, life would be easier. To believe life can be lived painlessly or mistake free is at the very least to be seriously disappointed; it is a setup for failure.
We all probably know at least one whose external life mimics perfection, but whose inner life seems to be a disaster. Stated another way, the external life is under control, while the internal life is out of control. Neither is congruent with the other. For example, the fastidiously dressed, well employed individual who is the life of the party, never has an unkind word to say about anybody, but has never had a day with out an anxiety attack and has no clue as to why.

Other common examples of incongruence: the individual who leaves life via suicide, but previously gave no indication of despondency; maybe there was a time when tears tried to flow but we held them back; maybe we expressed rage rather than the hurt we felt; or ignored our anger and silently cried ourself to asleep. The point is, the greater our incongruence, the less happy we will be.

Let’s take the age-old expression, “cleanliness is next to godliness,” and replace it with “congruence is next to perfection.”

Make an effort to match the outside with the inside. If you don’t like what you feel on the inside, and would rather not wear it on your sleeve, fine. But it is also important to have a healthy outlet. You have the power to change it by making it more congruent. That is as close to perfection as there is, and the beauty of it is that we can still make mistakes, have our feelings, be in conflict and experience all that life has to offer, or all that we can create within this life.

Rather than defining perfection in unrealistic terms such as mistake free, painless, endless happiness, let us view it more optimistically, as the true definition of perfect is: “completely suited for a particular purpose or situation.” We are indeed completely suited for our purpose: that of being. And, we are capable of dealing or learning to deal with any situation put before us. Any organism able to perform these last two tasks is as close to perfect as one gets. Perhaps if we realized how remarkably close to perfect we already are, we would waste less time striving for some other unrealistic, unachievable version of perfection.

Contact Dr. Hutt

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