While introducing his recent stand-up special, Brian Regan complained, “when I tell people I’m OCD, they think I’m crazier than I actually am! I’m not one of those psychopaths that has to alphabetize his bookcase!”
Instead, he went on to explain that he simply sorts them by three different features: date of purchase, reading start date, and reading completion date. He later described the intricacies of the quirky rules that apply in the event of a shelf-classification-overlap. Laughter rolled in steadily as we all began to understand he was much crazier than the shamed alphabetizer.
In that moment, this critically-acclaimed Seinfeld-favorite personified the darkness buried deep inside every single one of us. We revel in classifying behaviors and passing judgments, finding explicit comfort in our perceived distance from any undesirableness. The more we define the ‘other’, the less concerned we become with what flaws we might possess ourselves.
As we continue to abandon our true selves and obsess over our outward perceptions, we begin to project our innermost issues onto those closest to us. We withdraw from vulnerable interactions. We dismiss criticisms and limit our potential for growth. At worst, we abandon and betray others in a fear-based response to our own nightmarish schemas.
Which begs the same question the Queen Lauryn Hill herself asked decades ago… “How you gon’ win if you ain’t right within?”
Perfectionism: An Obsession
Much of our modern, disordered behavior centers around a preoccupation with the concept of perfection. If we present ourselves without mar; we anticipate that we will be worthy of admiration, romantic love, friendship, success, etc. This mindset is quickly satisfied by control-based compulsions associated with OCD, Anorexia/Bulimia, Generalized Anxiety, etc.
In her Earth-shattering book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown tackles the shiny appeal of perfectionism, explaining “[it] is not the same thing as striving to be your best. [It] is the belief that if we live ‘perfect’, look ‘perfect’, and act ‘perfect’, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.” In this single line, she highlights the defunct nature of the concept itself. It is not a healthy or reasonable expectation of ourselves or those we love.
Perfectionism becomes a defense mechanism for our innermost fears, tirelessly working to manipulate others into treating us kindly. It works off of the assumption that we are not worthy of such treatment unless we comply with these (ultimately unsustainable) standards. It is a shame based operative that is inherently anti-social.
Imperfection: Breaking the Illusion
In their assessment of the female stress cycle, Emily & Amelia Nagoski explain that there are two perceived character types in most interactions: humans (typically males) and givers (typically females).
Humans are entitled to their humanity; marked by their ability to make mistakes and the expectation that they should be subsequently forgiven. Givers are expected to surrender their humanity to their partners and careers alike. They are not granted a similar grace for their faults. Instead, they are expected to comply at the very least – and work to enhance others’ experiences by draining their own resources most often.
This ugly stereotype reinforces our shame-based ideals. It serves as an example that we are not worthy in our moments of imperfection. This type of expectation can leave us enmeshed in codependent relationships where we are expected to manage the moment-to-moment emotional wellness of another.
But, here’s the thing. We must first accept our own flaws before seeking resolve. We must then learn how to accept another’s comfort and understanding before offering the same in return. If we pass judgment on ourselves for accepting the grace of another, we inherently welcome similar patterns when the roles reverse.
TL;DR. Women: demand to be human. Allow yourself to be imperfect. As a result, become more tolerant of others. The world needs your patience, your grace, and your warmth. Men: do the same.
Vulnerability: A Way Through
As an expert on shame research, Brene was surprised to find that the data-based anecdote for this dreaded loop was the introduction of the concept of Wholehearted Living. This intentional practice consists of an authentic approach to human connection that focuses on self-compassion, resilience, gratitude, and creativity.
She explains that we must abandon the unattainable standards to which we hold ourselves. We must embrace our insecurities and celebrate our growth. We must find ways to nurture our pain instead of our familiar numbing routines.
Through an abandonment of our maladaptive needs for certainty, comparison, productivity, and judgment – we free ourselves to disconnect with the outward projection of ourselves. As a result, we find comfort in our truest selves and grant permission for others to do the same.
P.S. I’ve got another Spotify playlist for you. It’s (almost) perfect.
“Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.”Brene Brown. The Gifts of Imperfection. 2010.
Bonus Drink Recipe:
– 2 parts Cinnamon Whisky
– 2 parts RumChata
– 1 part Cinnamon Coke (you read that right…)
We’ll call this one “Sticky Bandit“, because Home Alone II is the greatest sequel known to man. Top Gun II, prove me wrong.