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The Perfectionism Trap


These are notes I took at THE workshop on perfectionism which happened yesterday, 16 February 2019.



If perfectionism causes unhappiness, then it means it’s a step away from reality. Perfectionism isn’t about what’s happening on the outside, but about something happening on the inside. So it’s a form of idealist thinking, not realist thinking. It’s a focus on only one aspect of reality, a reductionism, similar to the first and reasoned movement of emotion. So in a similar way to the emotions, perfectionism commonly only focuses on something that is good, truly good, but not the holistic or ultimates good. It doesn’t stick good from all different points of view. Which is funny because if you think about the practical intellect, you’d think that it would be able to look at good from many different points of view. Having said that, good is allied to the will. So, perhaps, it is the will that  needs to guide the practical intellect in discerning what the truly good is. In other words, the practical intellect, in and of itself, is not sufficient to discern what is good. By that I mean what is holistically good. The practical intellect can only discern certain aspects of the good. Probably more aspects of the goods then the emotions can, but not the entire good. (I wonder what was meant by knowledge of good and evil?).

I think perfectionism is nothing other than human respect. Or prudence of the flesh. It is a vice of the practical intellect, where the fear of what others will say or think, hampers action. It’s a lack of prudence.

 Here is a better definition of perfectionism. “Prudence of the flesh and undue care of the future of forms of false prudence, leading to take decisions in view of material ends as if there were the ultimate ends of men such as disordered pursuit of money, power, pleasure, fame, idiocy, health,”… Into that I would add the good regard of people. Which I think is a species of fame. So all those things mentioned in that list are good, but they are not holistic goods. They’re not goods taken from all different points of view. The only good in one reduced or reductionist perspective of reality. This is why perfectionism is all about idealistic thinking. More on perfectionism shortly. “The origin of these vices is the capital vice of greed. In the case of perfectionism its similarity to prudence is only apparent; it is a vice not only against prudence but also against justice.”

I think this point about it being out twice against Justice is quite profound. In the worship yesterday there was a lady who said that when she falls into perfectionism, she feels as though she makes it hard for the people around her to love her. Why is that? I think it’s because, by being a perfectionist, by focusing on one specific idealistic reduced good, a lesser good, we prevent the world from seeing us as we truly are, and from accepting the gift of ourselves. In a way, it is as though we have refused to accept who we truly are, it is as though we have refused to accept the gifts that God has given us, and as a result we refused to share those guesses the people around it. We have refused the call, we have denied the call to adventure, and as a result, all the people around us, and are impoverished in some way. This is why I think the blade of grass affirmation is a very powerful one. I am a blade of grass. I am not perfect, I am the same as billions of others, but I’m still different and I have a right and duty to be me. Mainly because I am not the author of me. In some ways. Especially with respect to my gifts I am not the author of me, and I have a calling to share those give to the people around me, and so by accepting myself, and accepting the gift that I have, in that way I am allowing the people around me to accept me also and to show me or give me love to be present with me. I am at present to them and they are present to me. We are presents to each other. This is a paradox of the blade of grass. We are all the same, but we are all different, and on top of it all every single one of us has a right to be here. No blade of grass can tell another blade of grass you have no right to be here. You have no right to be you. You have no right to express and to give others the that expression of your unique collection of gifts, or the gifts that make it different from all the other blades of grass. If anything, if the date of grass holds back from expressing its gifts it’s calling its gift of self to the others. Then it makes regarding this beautiful. Speaking of gardens, there was a very interesting quote about boundaries which took down, and I hope I can find it’s a mind’s notes. “Healthy boundaries are not walls. They are the gates and fences that allow you to enjoy the beauty of your own garden-and other people also.” Why does a garden need a fence?

So giving into perfectionism, gives rise to an emotion not being harnessed. Anything that emotion that goes crazy is fear. Or perhaps it is the other way round. It’s interesting how greed and fear are so closely connected. The more fearful we become, the greedier we become.  The fear is that of: “if I show people who IM, they’re going to reject me.”

We more risk averse to become. I think that is a sense experience behind perfectionism, behind driving the intellect to focus on only one intermediate temporarily reduced good, as opposed to focusing on the holistic goods as opposed to taking reality fully in its scope. Which is where the will is probably needed. One of the keys to overcoming perfectionism is learning to quickly recognise the inner, slightest movement: becoming more self-aware of these in emotions, as they happen, so I can harness that new energy. And I think that process has a lot to do with my realising when I am focusing on a small, intermediate, temporal, reduced good, as opposed to thinking or wanting the holistic higher good. This is a mantra which I need to keep repeating to myself. Which is, “what people think of me is a small good. I choose a greater good. And that is a good of sharing these gifts, these explorations, these journeys, these lands I have discovered, with others. Leading them there, so that they too can discover these truths themselves. Which I think is actually the essence of fiction writing.”

 I would actually like to do a proper investigation at some stage, into the virtue of prudence. And to examine it as a charioteer of the other virtues, especially with respect to the horse and rider analogy which we had uncovered do unpacked in one of our previous blog posts.

 Perfectionism is a form of running away from acknowledging my mistakes. And yet: the mistakes, the learning therefrom, is to accept and to step into the realistic real reality. Learn to walk: chase reputable mistakes: learning to walk is more fun, more engaging, more contemplative, more beginners mind, then walking.

 I perfection eight because I have constructed such a lofty self image of myself to compensate my low self-esteem… Which stems from valuing myself in externals. Hence agreed. I am greedy for the temporal wealth, the passing wealth, of the esteem of people. And I use that to gauge and to create my old self esteem. This is why smart people (academically) tend to not do well because from an early age the base their self-esteem and externals. Better temporal,. Not only academics. But also if there were really successful in their early years in areas such as sports or hobbies or any other area where  they enjoyed a high level of collet success and then from an early age they learned to pin their self-worth to what they could achieve. What other people thought of them. The external rewards, such as accolades praise frame esteem and with the passage of time as they got older and started earning money with money. This is why human respect is giving your power away to other people who don’t want it, can’t use it, don’t need it, on don’t care. We self identify with our performance. It happens whenever we experience early successes, and it messes up. With babies, the valuable because we attach their value to the existence not to their performance. And we need to learn to do that for ourselves. To attach my value, my self-esteem, my existence. My being a blade of grass. To my being. Not to my doing.

Moving on to some solutions:

The paradox is that the inner world is a problem, in the inner world is where the solution is to be found. The solution is basing self esteem on the real, permanent realities, and the realistic permanent realities of the gifts that we have received from God. Because God never revokes his call or his gifts. “ Romans 11:26 “For God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.”