The beginning of the week was probably the toughest time I’ve had since before I moved to Charlotte. Some things had been weighing heavily on me since the week before. I hit my breaking point on Monday night – when I went to bed, I was so overwhelmed by my thoughts and feelings that I couldn’t help sobbing for about half an hour.
It was a long overdue catharsis. When I finally started to calm down, I really wanted to understand why I was so upset. There was a triggering event, but I knew that the problem had to be much deeper than what had happened. Here’s what I realized: I had been “shoulding” all over myself.
I wrote in my last post about perfectionism and my goal to be more authentic. Being a perfectionist means I feel compelled to live my life by a long list of “should” and “shouldn’t.” This list includes things that are external, like how I should look and how I should treat others, and internal, like how I should feel and think. In an effort to cast these things aside with the intent of being myself, all I really did was come up with a second list of “should’s” related to NOT being a perfectionist. To compound my dilemma, these two “should” lists had a tendency to contradict each other. For instance:
- “It’s stupid that so-and-so’s comment hurt my feelings, I should just forget about it” vs. “I should tell people when they’ve crossed the line and hurt my feelings so I can set boundaries.”
- “I shouldn’t feel this way about so-and-so or this-and-that ” vs. “I shouldn’t bottle up my feelings and pretend they aren’t there.”
- “I shouldn’t have said that to so-and-so. It wasn’t the right thing to say. Maybe I should apologize just in case” vs. “I shouldn’t dissect every conversation and then go back and try to perfect it after it’s over.”
- “I should always be positive and supportive of others” vs. “I should be honest with people when I have concerns about their choices.”
I was torn between my should and shouldn’t list in an effort to manage my perfectionism and it finally ripped me apart. I realized something important, which is that perfectionism is not something that I can surgically excise in one foul swoop. It is something I can manage, but probably never completely eliminate. And it will take time and effort. It will mean that I will still succumb to that mindset periodically. I actually laughed a little when I realized that I was being a perfectionist about NOT being a perfectionist!
I also realized that experiencing emotions that society has labeled as negative does not make me a bad person, it makes me human. It is natural to feel angry, to feel envious, to feel hurt. Pretending not to feel that way was destroying me on the inside. For instance, a friend made a comment to me earlier that day that hurt my feelings. It was intended to be funny, not malicious, and I knew that, but I realized that knowing that didn’t change the fact that it hurt me and brought up feelings of shame. I had a choice about what to do with those feelings. Deny my feelings? Give my friend the silent treatment? Call my friend names and tell them they are an awful person? I decided to be honest with them about how they made me feel. I felt that honesty was the best response because it would free me from resenting my friend down the road for what was said and it would also help establish boundaries about what is and is not okay to say to me. Furthermore, it allowed me an opportunity to address something else in our friendship that had been gnawing at me, but my “shoulding” had prevented me from saying anything about it. Once I expressed my feelings, I immediately felt better.
Expression is an important part of life. Dance used to be my creative outlet for self-expression, but I’ve struggled to find a suitable one since I stopped dancing. I’ve written poetry in the past, and used to write quite prolifically, but I find that I am only really inspired to write poetry when some asshole has broken my heart. I used to draw quite a bit when I was younger, and I do have enough basic skill to do more than stick figures, so I went to Michael’s after work yesterday and picked up some sketching supplies.
I spent last night drawing. It seemed like the perfect exercise in creativity to help me come to terms with this week. I knew the outcome wouldn’t be perfect, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to enjoy the process. I don’t feel compelled to produce a perfect piece of art because I know I have limited talent and no training and that there really isn’t such a thing a perfection in art. It just is what it is. I decided to draw a self-portrait. What better way to tie up this week than by creating an imperfect picture of myself – and then to share it with all of you, even though I know it’s not museum-worthy?