The Self-Made Landscape Part II: Perfectionism & People Pleasing
My last post was entitled The Self-Made Landscape. It sets the stage for this next post so, feel free to take a look here to give yourself some context.
Two areas of my life that have relentlessly carved out chunks of my personal landscape have been perfectionism and people pleasing.
These two can often work hand in hand. They meld together and feed off of each other creating much pain. The ridges are deep from the destruction these character traits have caused in my life.
For me, perfectionism and people pleasing manifest themselves in unrealistic ideals about myself and the people around me. They are driven by expectations that can rarely be met.
Expectations about how circumstances should unfold.
Expectations about how I live, how I look and how I present to the world.
And expectations about how I am perceived by others.
There is little to no room for error. It is impossible to meet my own standards, even though I created them.
For many years, perfectionism and people pleasing bred self-loathing and low self esteem. I couldn’t receive any type of criticism without feeling attacked. I was defensive and convinced myself that I was unworthy to be loved.
I relied so heavily on the praise and acceptance of others to feed my worth. And often I believed I could obtain this acceptance based on my abilities. If I could perform to perfection, people would love me.
But the truth was, as quickly as a kind word came my way, the high of the moment would wear off and I’d be looking for my next fix of compliments to prove my worth.
For the longest time I thought that living this existence of never good enough was just who I was. There was no hope to break out of this prison.
Truth be told, these character traits will likely always be present to some degree. There is something to be said for how a person is wired naturally.
In some ways being a perfectionist has given me strengths and natural abilities, such as an eye for detail, being punctual, reliable, tidy and organized.
In similar ways, people pleasing has stemmed from a strong intuitive sense about the people around me. I can have great empathy for what people are feeling and can often sense the energies and emotions of others in the room.
I don’t work to manifest any of the above; they just happen. And with careful stewardship they can be my greatest assets.
But more often than not, my perfectionism and people pleasing become distorted. They morph from helpful, healthy, God-given abilities to torturous, unattainable standards from the pit of hell.
And when I’m being driven by what is impossible to obtain, I find myself on the brink of burnout and in a never ending downward spiral of failure.
Living in this madness could often feel like a roller coaster ride that had no end.
I believed that change was impossible, afterall, I had prayed endless pleas to God about taking this burden from me with little to no relief. He had given me glimpses of peace here and there, but as new circumstances would arise, the peace would dissipate.
The voice of the saboteur would rise up declaring my lack of worth. Reminding me over and over what a failure I was. How disappointing I was. How unloved I was.
I held to the lie that I was forever a slave to these thoughts and feelings. That when they rose up in me I had an obligation to spring to attention and engage with them. It was the lie that I spoke, swallowed back, held in my belly and lived as truth.
Before I discovered minimalism I was often overcome with overwhelm.
There were so many things that surrounded me that my perfectionism felt obligated to control, juggle and protect. And if I really wanted to be liked by people I better get it all sorted.
God forbid I couldn’t keep all my ducks in a perfectly cluttered row.
It was a heavy burden to bear.
When I was living in a life of chaos and didn’t yet have the tools or space to explore them, I would have to take time-outs to numb the overwhelm. To calm the turmoil going on inside so I could breathe.
Netflix binges, mindless social media scrolling, endless shopping and consuming of food, booze and the like.
Whatever could distract me and quiet the noise for a time was welcome. Fill what felt lacking with momentary pleasures. Stifling the pain of not enough with the distraction of more than enough. With too much.
As I discovered the lightness I found in decluttering my physical space I began to have more head space to examine the other areas I was feeling overwhelmed.
When I didn’t have a million other things taking up my energy, it was easier to get curious about why this need for perfection and desire to please others was so all consuming.
In the few moments I could make space to be compassionate toward myself, I would make an effort to learn more about my perfectionism. With a clear head and an open heart. Look closer at what it stems from. Why it causes so much pain. How to begin letting go.
During this time of self discovery the book The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown ended up in my hands. This book was the beginning of so much letting go and self discovery as a people pleasing perfectionist.
Brene spoke to many of my struggles at the time, even touching on the idea of numbing. She explains: “There’s no such thing as selective emotional numbing...while I was ‘taking the edge off’ of the pain and vulnerability, I was also unintentionally dulling my experiences of good feelings, like joy.” (pg 72-73) In other words, when you numb the bad you also numb the good. You can’t selectively numb your world. It’s all or nothing.
The need to numb became much less tempting when I had given myself space and breathing room to be more loving toward myself.
No more urgently hiding the ugly away. I could hold my story with care and listen closely to my heart.
My time of meditation and prayer became quieter. Less anxious. And the lack of noise allowed me to hear the still and small voice within.
God was always present and always speaking to me but I had allowed the voice of chaos to speak louder than Him and steal the peace He had given.
And when the lies would rise up again, and try to protect me from being vulnerable, I would give them permission to take the day off. I knew that I was going to be okay, no matter what.
I was now better equipped to get out of the way and make room for the Way to speak His Truth and Life to my soul.
This lightness gave me space to explore what drove me to this insanity. I was allowing God to reveal the lies I had been living.
That’s where much of my healing began.
Where I traded my mess for less.
Where minimalism became holy ground.
I could get inquisitive about what would happen if I didn’t react to every urge of needing things to be just so. What would determine my worth without the need of outward praise.
When I had established a foundation for my land of less I could begin to shift how the landscape was being carved out. And the more time and loving care I could give to it the more beauty and life the land of less was filled with.
As I began to be still and less reactive to the urge to perfect everything, and please everyone, a wild and rugged terrain began to form.
As I leaned into less of what was so familiar I saw so much goodness in what remained:
Who I was naturally, what my wild heart actually looked like and what was important to it.
Life was sprouting up where it hadn’t before.
I found freedom in this wild territory.
I could see that God was in the business of restoration. That indeed, in the wasteland, streams spring up, and in the wilderness, He makes a way. (Isaiah 43:19)
The space I occupied was now open with nothing hindering.
I could enjoy life as I was created to.
My land of less became my land of abundance.
My less propelled me into so much more…
Stay tuned for the next blog post as I continue on the topic of The Self-Made Landscape. I’ll uncover how religion has carved out chunks of my landscape and how that pain propelled me into spiritual minimalism. The place where minimalism became holy ground.