I’ve been kindly teased by many people over my adult years regarding my… lets call it “cleanliness”. My house is not dust free or dog hair free but my cupboards are organized within an inch of their lives, I half make my bed while I am still in it each morning and finish the job before even going to the bathroom. My bedding has stripes on it so the stripes must not be curvy. Purple straight down the left side and green down the right.  I have 6 shelving units in my office because each item must have its own drawer. Regular paper and card-stock should never mix. I’d defend myself by saying that I’d never be able to tell the difference but the truth really is they just can’t touch. I have 5 reusable shopping bags but can only use 2 or 3 at a time. They are different colours and I can’t mix them together. If you look at my art supplies, everything has its own case and are mixed together in the case but when I take out what I need to use? I colour code them from lightest to darkest immediately. My basement is nearly empty except for the laundry machines, a freezer and a hot water tank. I do have one large shelving unit and everything down there from bird seed to garden tools has its own storage box. One friends husband said it reminded him of “Sleeping with the Enemy”. If you are not familiar with that movie, there was a man with an obsessive need for everything to be absolutely perfect. Labels forward in the cupboards, every knickknack in its perfectly angled spot, no picture off centre. I wish he wasn’t right but he is. I am a perfectionist.

Perfectionism was bred in to me at a very early age. Not in the most positive of ways but things being perfect equated to an increased safety. If there wasn’t one speck of dust on the counter, mom MIGHT not freak out when she got home. We didn’t really get to live in our many houses over the years, rooms in our home were kept to magazine level perfect at all times. It was her way of letting the outside world think that our family was perfect.  Falling beneath that level of perfect was dangerous for all of us. My house is not like that at all but my own personal possessions are. I never cared if my kids made their beds but mine was always done. People can come here, put their feet up and relax which I LOVE but I am very rarely relaxed. Others can be late for anything at all and I don’t truly care at all but I never allow myself to be late. EVER. Even years ago when I ran a daycare, I’d show up to the library program or swimming lessons 15 minutes early with 5 two year olds and 2 four year olds. Mothers with one or two children always arrived after me complaining how hard it was to keep on time. For them? I am sure it was. For me? I never allowed myself to relax enough to not be precise.

Perhaps this all sounds wonderful to you less timely, less organized, less manic perfectionists but it is not an easy way to live. I expect so much from myself at all times.
The reason that I am writing this today is that during therapy last week, I was asked where I fit on the victim triangle. If you do not know about the victim triangle, I can do a blog about it. Just let me know. It is a really important concept to aid in healing.
I realized that I am still on the triangle in one major way. My need to rescue is very well controlled now and I am careful about how much I give away of my time and energy while putting myself on the back burner. That rarely happens now. 🙂 I am also not much of a victim any longer either. I do not feel the need to splash details of my trauma around to get sympathy nor do I live in a “woe is me” world. I am a survivor. I have good days, bad days, days where I give support and days that I am learning to accept support directed back towards me. Another happy face for that. 🙂
Two out of 3 areas are quite good now and I am proud of that.
Then comes the 3rd point of that triangle. The abuser. It is VERY hard to see myself as an abuser because in my mind I know that I woudl NEVER abuse anyone else. If anything, I am diligent to assure that I never do. Even in the smallest way.
That said? If I am honest? I am an abuser to myself.
I expect more of myself than I would ever even consider to expect from someone else. My nearly insane level of organization seriously teeters on obsessive. I can not rest or sleep if anything is left a mess. (My idea of mess, not others. Read “perfectly done”.) I don’t allow myself to be slack about anything. If I say that I will do something? It is done to perfection. Some of that is really nice but it is to a level that is very hard to live up to on a regular basis. No one else has placed these expectations on me. I have placed them on myself.

So why do I do it? The answer is easy to know but hard to admit. I am afraid of losing control. If I can micromanage every aspect of my own life then I will appear to be managing really well and my level of control stays high. I am not worried about controlling anyone else. Just myself. I am afraid to fall apart. I am afraid of people seeing my imperfections. This is not done to look perfect or anything. I am just afraid of being unworthy of others respect. I am afraid of not measuring up.

In my mind, I know that none of this is necessary and no one around me is going to think less of me if my bed is unmade or my markers are not in rainbow order. No one will dump me because the soup can touches a can of beans. My mind knows this is all unnecessary  but my heart can not believe it yet.
30 years of never being good enough and always being a failure in the eyes of others who should have loved me and accepted me have take their toll and it will take me awhile to undo.

I wonder if anyone reading this can relate? Surely I am not alone in this.

We’ll get there. One non rainbow ordered marker at a time. ❤


5 responses to “Perfectionism

  1. You and I have talked about this subject many times Heather, but I can honestly say I never imagined your “perfectionism” and my deep need for order, organisation and colour-co-ordination was actually self-abuse. I know my needing everything in it’s place is a “control thing”, but a huge part of it is trying to gain the respect and admiration of my family. That’s hard to admit, and though I laugh it off it does hurt when they say it’s “scary” or “anally retentive”.
    Although I’ve always seen this tidiness as a plus (especially as I am married to a man who is SO messy and disorganised!), I truly understand when you say it’s very hard to live with. I didn’t realise until a year or so ago how negative it actually could be; I had a severe hemiplegic migraine (which paralyses me down one side) and I was trying to tidy the bedroom and put fresh knickers on before the paramedics came!
    A very honest and thought-provoking blog Heather. Hugs to you my friend.x


    • Thank you for your response Wendy. I think being organized is a wonderful thing. I wouldn’t give that up for anything. I like to be on time. I like to know where things are without needing to take my house apart to find them. That stuff is great in my opinion. I think it gets closer to the self abuse line when you are doing things that go way above and beyond just be organized. At Homewood we earned it is not what you do but why you do it that is important. Exercise is great for you but if you do it at mock speed and hurt yourself by being too vigorous? That is self abuse and not exercise. Keeping my markers and pencils separate is organized. Taking them out and arranging them in rainbow order before I can use them is over the edge. Having a nice room and clean knickers are great but if you are trying to achieve both while having the symptoms of a stroke? Well… you get the idea. 😉
      Hugs to you too!


      • Yes! : ) It was also rather unrealistic, given the circumstances! Thanks to you sharing your experiences and also not being able to do all I would like physically at the moment, I’m learning to go easier on myself. How my house looks or having my clothes arranged like your pencils REALLY doesn’t matter to my family anyway to be honest!


  2. Interesting how I never thought of myself as an abuser of self. It is so easily over looked or even tried to be explained away. Thanks for sharing this. 🙂


  3. Perspective is such a funny thing. Here you write about how much energy you put into being neat, while I often find myself asking myself in frustration: Why is it so easy for other people to “have it together” and I just can’t seem to do it?!

    I always have to remind myself that maybe they _don’t_ have it as together as it seems. Or maybe it _isn’t_ as easy for them as it seems. Here, your post just reminded me of that.

    While I struggle to motivate myself to do the things I want… or to sort through which of the 10,000 things I want to/need to do, and choose one so that I can even get started instead of just feeling overwhelmed by the big picture… there are the people I try to compare myself to who are quite possibly struggling with their “perfection” in their own way. (And maybe comparing themselves to me, for all I know!)

    One thing I am happy about is how I have simplified my life. I used to try to keep my schedule full and do all of the things my friends and family wanted to do, plus all of the things that interest me. But then I was too exhausted to take care of myself or do what I wanted to at home.

    Now I take care of myself, but sometimes I spend a little too much time in leisure, when I have so many things at home that I want to do. (For example, I have wanted to paint my house for 2 years, and I have wanted to re-finish a coffee table for 3 years.) I feel like I could better utilize my time on weekends, but I often end up just doing the basic weekly chores and then just relaxing like it’s vacation.

    My hyper-vigilance comes in around social interactions. And therefore: they can be exhausting!

    I am also afraid to fall apart, but not in organization and cleanliness. I’m afraid to fall apart emotionally. I want so badly to connect deeply with friends, but I’m too afraid to open up emotionally to them because I fear they might think I’m being absurd, ungrateful, dramatic, stupid, etc. Because of this, I have always be then “tough” one. I don’t usually ask for help. Of course, it’s tricky because when I have tried to ask for help, I have never been able to appropriately do so (e.g. have the knowledge of exactly what I need help with, or what kinds of things might help me), so after enough floundering around, I finally give up on others and figure out how to help myself.

    People see you as neat and together in a cleanliness way. People see me as neat and together in an emotional way (in a way like that dirt may not exist in your house, and emotion does not exist in me). But, it’s so, so not true!


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