Today, I have to make a confession. I’ve always liked things “just so.”
The idea that I’d meet the day and experience anything less than exactly what I imagine has created serious problems in both my personal and business life.
Maybe you can relate a little bit to what I’m going through.
- Ever feel like things have to be “just so”?
- Do you feel like finding the right person for you is an unattainable, lofty goal since no one seems to measure up?
- Are you picky?
- Do you become upset and dwell when things don’t go how you imagined them?
- Do you find yourself disappointed with yourself and others frequently?
- Do you deeply believe that if you don’t do it yourself, it won’t get done right?
Lately it seems that at every turn, there has been an opportunity (read: a frustrating personal challenge) for me to let go and “just see” how things pan out, while I attempt to maintain the hope of a positive outcome.
To put it mildly, this is the exact opposite of how my brain naturally works. My natural tendency is to force and nag and try to MAKE THINGS WORK.
I’m used to my old model — which dictates that any obstacle is time for me to ram through, make meaningful changes and mention my feelings– complete with action steps and intended outcomes. This, dear reader — provides me with the fleeting, compelling ILLUSION of control and a panacea against avoiding meaningful change of any sort. Nothing is too small or too large to be concerned about.
And it’s bullshit. It needs to change.
Because I’m driving myself and my husband crazy. He feels like he can’t do anything right and I have been acting like a nagging harpy. Frankly, it’s dangerous for our relationship’s future and if it continues, I’ll drive him away.
Perfectionism has always been a problem for me…
I remember being six years old and zipping through school assignments. I was usually done before everyone else — most of the time I started projects before the assignment was even given, since the schedule was usually predictable.
One day, I missed something my teacher said and fell behind in a particular workbook everyone was doing together. I was wracked with shame and guilt, to the point where I couldn’t stand the anxiety. My six-year-old self felt like a failure. I couldn’t sleep for the next three nights — I was up late dwelling about how I had failed. Finally, my Mom sensed that something was up and I told her in between sobs what was happening. I was so ashamed that I could barely function.
I had never, ever fallen behind before. I prided myself on being first and had received considerable praise for the standards which my stalwart, serious little self held.
My mother handled this delicately. She called my teacher and explained the problem. The next day teacher compassionately helped me to make up the work. I think the adults were surprised that I was so crestfallen and ashamed about this temporary lapse in academic perfection. They were both gentle — but no matter. I was so ashamed that I promised myself it would never happen again.
And just like that, my already high standards got even more out of control.
Fast forward 30 years and we have a recipe for disaster. Which is why I want to challenge both of us — yes, you — if you see yourself in this — to make some changes that will not only lead to happier relationships with the people who matter most — but also with ourselves.
If you see yourself in this, realize that like me, it’s probably creeping into your relationships. It’s all an attempt to gain control and steer the outcome in the direction we want. We can tell ourself this isn’t manipulative and damaging since we believe that what we’re doing is “for the highest good.” Maybe so, but if we alienate everyone we know to get there — we’re not exactly succeeding in creating the healthy connection we so desire in the first place.
When we set down control over the outcome, we leave spaces for the other person to pick up the slack, be their best and surprise and delight us instead of always pushing for what we want.
Granted, none of this is easy — if it were, we’d all let go more. Letting someone else pick up the slack might mean that while the socks aren’t folded the exact way I want– controlling everything leaves us feeling like something is perilously missing. It’s the instinct to sit on our hands and wait that is hardest to deal with.
Power and control are tough masters because they tell us that we can have EXACTLY what we want — except that the costs are usually higher than we intend in our relationship currency — the only actual, real way that it matters.
So when we jam things into place and try to get everything to go our way — just so — we usually pay with the tired resignation of our loved ones. They may acquiesce out of genuine care for us or they may do so out of exhaustion, but either way, it comes at an unintended high cost.
That’s why if you’ve found yourself feeling like you have to be in charge of everything when it comes to your relationship, I want to challenge you to put down that misguided sense of responsibility. It’s heavy and it’s hurting.
So, how can we tame the perfection monster and stop driving everyone else crazy with our demands and exacting standards?
1. Notice when you’re feeling that itchy “this isn’t what I want” feeling.
2. Before trying to steer things in a new direction or reacting in any way, ask yourself:
- Is this truly important?
- Why do I feel uncomfortable?
- Which exact outcome would I prefer?
Once you’ve thought this through, consider whether you really need to change course and try to get the other person to do that, or if you can just let it be. Does it matter if your socks are folded exactly right? Can you tolerate a little more disorder?
3. Snap yourself out of it.
Then I do something physical to snap myself out of the “this isn’t right” thought process. When it gets particularly bad, I snap a rubber band on my wrist. You might have luck with tapping your thigh with your palm or anything that jogs you out of the mindset.
4. Refocus on a part of the situation that is positive.
“Well, he did the laundry, and that was GREAT.”
Then I try to stop dwelling and distract myself with something else.
Obviously this is a tough process to break such an ingrained habit. But I’m starting today, and I challenge you to do the same.