The Burden of Perfectionism

Hey folks, just wanted you to know I am on a more even keel today. I had a great talk with my therapist, made an appointment for more medications, and have had some very helpful conversations with friends. It takes a village to drag someone out of a pit, and I’d say I’m 3/4 of the way out! The most important realization is what my therapist told me: no matter how much you have learned, how much work you’ve done on yourself, and all that…circumstances will occasionally pop up that send you down into a pit. None of us are immune. You just have to remember you’ve gotten out before and will again. Yes.

Soon I’ll be dancing every day with my Droodles (photos from the horse show Saturday by Tarrin’s kind son)

One reason I was beating myself up so much recently was that when I let in all the negative self-talk, it brought up how hard I have always worked to be good at what I do. In my family of origin I felt like I was not worthy of love unless I was doing well at whatever I tried. I had to be the best. Coming in second in the spelling bee devastated me. I still remember the word: adolescent.

My insistence that I had to succeed to please my parents (eventually just my dad) led me to some decisions I’d later regret, like sticking with grad school way past the time when it was bringing me any pleasure. I felt like I owed it to them to succeed because they’d sacrificed so much to help me academically (the amount they funded each year for my undergrad was just a thousand dollars, but it was huge in a one-income family with a sickly matriarch). And I felt I owed it to the National Merit Scholarship people, then whoever gave the fellowships that got me through grad school. I felt I had to do well to justify their confidence in me.

This fellow has confidence in me.

So when I failed, it really hurt. I’m just not comfortable being mediocre at anything without putting a lot of work into beating down that discomfort. And hey, guess what, we’re all mostly medium at most skills and activities, at best! I am not the world’s best knitter, but I enjoy knitting. I am not the world’s great writer, but I love writing.

Something that helps is talking to a friend, like my horse (or my trainer, or my therapist, or a friend)

When I was already way down in the dumps, perceiving that I was not getting any better at horsemanship just crushed me. Was it true? No. I am doing fine according to the only person who is qualified to judge me, my trainer. And, just like I didn’t cause all the trouble with my marriage, it takes two to do horsemanship. Drew just can’t turn right. Drewlander.

I’m very good at going straight.

It’s a curse, if there’s such a thing, to be driven to be the best at everything. A drive to excel and do well, that’s fine. But we can’t all be number one. And in some things, it’s nice to be cozily ensconced in the middle. When I am at equilibrium I’m just happy to always been learning. Ugh, I hate falling into the hole and putting myself down like I think my dad would have. Ugh.

No training photos from today, but look how the grasshoppers all line up on the shady side of the cones. We are overrun.

By the way, today I had great lessons with both horses. I’m not a failure with Drew: he has right turn issues. And Apache and I are making so much progress that I hardly recognize our partnership. It really helps to have some actual riding instruction–I sorta know what I’m doing now, and so does he.

Wishing you all healing, strength, and persistence in these hard, hard times.

Author: Sue Ann (Suna) Kendall

The person behind The Hermits' Rest blog and many others. I'm a certified Texas Master Naturalist and love the nature of Milam County. I manage technical writers in Austin, help with Hearts Homes and Hands, a personal assistance service, in Cameron, and serve on three nonprofit boards. You may know me from La Leche League, knitting, iNaturalist, or Facebook. I'm interested in ALL of you!

2 thoughts on “The Burden of Perfectionism”

  1. I love this post. I relate a lot with feeling like I had to be best. My mother would say, “If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all.” That statement hung me up for years. Thank you for sharing your experience and hope with perfectionism. I appreciate you.


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