I’ve always found it hard to let go – whether it’s saying goodbye, or letting someone else take charge, but I’ve attributed that to my sentimentality or playfully ascribed it to my ‘control freak’ or ‘perfectionist’ nature. I used to think these were good things – it’s taken me a long time to realise they were warning signs of something I wasn’t yet ready to deal with.
I used to be so proud of my perfectionism – I thought that it meant I was a natural over-achiever, with high standards and a strong work ethic. Reading Brene Brown’s definition of perfectionism in The Gifts of Imperfection absolutely blew my mind – mainly because it was so painfully, heartbreakingly accurate:
“Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: “If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”
In the 12 months since I first read her words I have broken down my perspective on the world and rebuilt my sense of self – adopting the mantra of ‘done is better than perfect’, and generally encouraging myself to accept that I am indeed ‘good enough’ just as I am. But my learning doesn’t end there.
I used to think that being a ‘control freak’ was a measure of my sense of pride in my accomplishments – that it showed dedication, passion and pride in my work. Then Brene explained in Daring Greatly that control is another one of the ways we try to ‘armour up’ and defend against vulnerability, in order to avoid feelings of shame, judgement and blame. The fact that reading this made me physically uncomfortable showed me how strongly I resisted letting go of this ‘shield’.
I can see now how much fear I am holding back.
Just as my mind was blown when I read the definition of perfectionism and realised how terrified I was of not being good enough, I can now see how I use control to prevent myself from going ‘all in’.
I am afraid that if I let go then I will have to trust other people with my happiness.
I am afraid to let other people in because what if they make me happy now but they don’t stay forever.
What if I trust people to make me happy and then they leave?
So I keep people at a distance. I choose how much I commit – I keep a tentative toe out of the water so that I’m always ready to bounce first if the need arises.
I do this for safety. I don’t see how this holds me back. The fear of the unknown is so great that it feels more comfortable to be unhappy than it does to let my barriers down and allow someone in. Suffering is soothing in its familiarity.
It’s not difficult for me to understand why I might feel this way, but it frustrates me that, as usual, I can bring it back to the pivotal moment when I lost my father to suicide when I was 7 years old. No wonder I’m afraid to truly trust anyone with my happiness when the one man who was supposed to be here for me chose to end his life before I had even really begun mine.
So I’m working on letting go, but it might take me another 12 months before I get there.