Can I Really be Imperfect and Still Worthy of Love?
A preface to everything below. Can I Really be Imperfect and Still Worthy of Love? I have asked that question often. We are all here at Evimero Couples to build deeply connected relationships. Through my (Laura) journey of personal growth I’ve realized that for most of my life perfectionism lurked around every corner sabotaging most opportunities for just that. My hope is that by reading this you’ll be able to see some of the things you wrestle with. You’ll know you’re not alone. And you’ll have steps to take to support you on the path to healing, restoration, and ultimately experiencing all of the vulnerable, connected, fulfilling juiciness that relationships have to offer. Let’s begin, shall we.
I read Daring Greatly by Brene Brown in 2013. When she talked about the mask of perfectionism, the word perfectionism resonated with me, but for me the mask was no longer separate from me, it was part of me. I read her words, but I couldn’t understand what she was saying or why she was saying it. I was blind to the havoc perfectionism had wreaked on my relationships. I was unaware of how it limited my ability to be vulnerable, a critical component of developing deeply connected, meaningful relationships, so I was unable to wrap my head around why I would want to drop the mask. I love the saying, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” We don’t know our own blind spots.
If you’ve looked at our Framework for growth, you’ll see that the foundation is a growth mindset, and the first stage is Asleep. If you’ve been looking for an example of someone in this stage…reread that paragraph above. I was peacefully (or so I thought) nestled in, unaware of where I was, and unaware of the impact it had on my ability to set healthy boundaries, express my needs as a partner, accept and be accepted, and love and be loved.
In 2016 I read The Gifts of Imperfection, also by Brene Brown. In this book she writes, “Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.” In an instant, I saw what I hadn’t previously been able to see. Deep down underneath many layers of the onion that makes up me…below the happy outgoing personality, below the independent single mom, below the successful professional and entrepreneur…I realized that I carried a belief that in order to be loved I needed to be perfect. And the part that made me sick to my stomach…I started to see just how much I was hustling, in every area of my life, for approval, acceptance and love. I saw how hard I worked, because deep down I didn’t believe I was worthy of those things just as I was…they had to be earned.
So let’s start at the beginning. Where does perfectionism begin? For me, it started at a very young age. As a kid I learned that love was conditional. Of course no one ever said that to me, they didn’t have to. My mom was often in her own world…lots of things that always needed to be done, and spending time with me wasn’t high on her list. I now know that her neverending to-do list was to numb out a whole lot of emotional pain that she had no idea how to deal with. As a kid I could feel her pain, but she often said everything was fine. I remember many times looking at her in the car and tears were rolling down her cheeks. When I would ask what was wrong she would say nothing, or shut me out and give me the silent treatment for hours or days on end. And then I felt bad for asking. I didn’t know what my place was in her world. My gut and head were in constant conflict…I knew something was not right, but she said everything was fine so my intellect went on overdrive trying to convince my gut it was wrong.
The story I started telling myself went something like this, “she says she is fine, so if she is fine yet doesn’t want to spend time with me, then something must be wrong with me.” And let’s take that one step further to “if there’s something wrong with me, then maybe I can fix me and she will be happy and show me that she loves me.” It’s taken years of personal growth and therapy to not only put it all together, but to truly know that she loved me, and did her very best. It’s taken years for me to love her for who she was, and for who she wasn’t. And it’s taken a whole heap of grace for me to understand who I am and learn to love myself for who I am, and who I am not. I refer to my mom in the past tense because she was diagnosed with cancer in 1992 and passed away in 2001.
My hustle for attention, affection, love and ultimately self-worth started at a very young age. I learned that if I…got good grades, could carry on conversations with adults (which earned the praise of other adults who would tell my mom how great I was and then maybe she would see it!!), started a babysitting business at 11, took accelerated classes, ran for student council, played every sport available in my small town high school, graduated college with a job lined up a year before graduation…she would interact with me. She would smile at me. For a moment, I felt accepted and loved. So that must be the key to love. It is earned.
Lots of positives came out of my hustle for self-worth. I’m comfortable in a room full of strangers and love getting to know new people. I learned the value of entrepreneurship and leadership at a very young age. I excelled in school and as a result was awarded enough academic scholarships to attend a private university in Denver, Colorado. And I have an intense love of sports and appreciation for the life lessons we can only learn on a court or field with a team.
There was a price for all of those positives though. I had no idea who I was under the hustle. I had no idea what it meant to be vulnerable. I had no idea what healthy boundaries were. And I had no idea what it meant to have and express needs. All of that hustling was a recipe for disaster in intimate relationships.
I look back now, and am so incredibly grateful for the people who introduced me to personal growth. Prior to that I had elements of a growth mindset, but they were scattered and undeveloped. Diving into the growth process has changed my life, and while it hasn’t always been easy or comfortable, it has always been worth it.
I’ve found in my personal growth journey that I devour book after book after book…and then all of the sudden something clicks. There is a spark that creates a shift. It sets something in motion. The Gifts of Imperfection was that spark. It ignited an exploration of what author Brene Brown refers to as the wholehearted journey, and at the core of this journey lives the concept of worthiness. She poses the question, “Why do we so often end up hustling for it (worthiness) rather than believing in it?” Right. That one question led me back through my past in a search for understanding. I wasn’t looking for understanding in an effort to make someone else wrong. I was looking for understanding so I could heal. So I could know myself. So I could authentically show up in my life. So I could be vulnerable and create a space for true, deep, lasting connection with my partner. So I could end the constant hustle.
So now, eight years later, what does this look like? Well, I would be lying if I said that perfectionism doesn’t sneak up on me on occasion. But here’s what’s different. 1. I understand why it gets triggered. 2. I can feel it happening in the moment. 3. I have tools to deal with it.
At Evimero Couples we are committed to helping people understand the growth process and giving them tracks to run on so they have a roadmap for their own growth. What is the path through perfectionism? What is the process you can follow to find your own healing, enabling you to be authentically you? What are the steps you can take individually and with your partner to create a deep, sustainable connection in your relationship?
Start by creating understanding. Embrace where you are. It is not good or bad, it just is. Reflect on your past to gain understanding. Not to blame or judge, but simply to see how you got to where you are at this moment. For me, it has been so helpful to understand how and why I developed perfectionism as a coping mechanism. I have a language for it. It allowed me to start to differentiate between the me I had created, and the true me that was buried behind having to always look good.
Take some time with this step. For me, it initially brought up pain, sadness, and anger. It was confronting to realize that I had no idea who I really was. It was painful to realize how paralyzed I am by what others think of me. And I felt a tremendous amount of sadness realizing that it was as a result of not feeling unconditional love from my mom. I had to take some time to work through these feelings. I made two commitments to myself through this part of the growth process: 1 – that I would allow myself to feel everything I needed to feel, and 2 – that I would continue to do the work until I found freedom, because I knew that’s what was on the other side of pain, sadness and anger. Dig in, and stay the course.
Create a vision. What would you like this area of your life to look like? How would you like to feel? Why is growth in this area important to you? For me, I wanted to feel free. I wanted to be unapologetically me, always, without fear of what anyone else thought. I wanted to be vulnerable with my partner, and allow him to authentically see me…the me that is fun and loving and spunky, and the me that is sad and messy and scared. I wanted to be able to share all of me with him. I wanted to be able to recognize when my perfectionism is triggered.
And I wanted to have the tools to handle it so it didn’t spiral out of control…or if it did start to spiral, the spiral was short. And I wanted to be able to understand my own needs and express them to my partner. I wanted to be able to say, “the story I’m telling myself is that I’m not good enough. I know that isn’t true and I’m committed to growing through this. What I need from you is a safe space for me to be unapologetically me, and love me as I am.” Do your very best to think big, write it all down so it’s out of your head and somewhere where you can see it and read it when fear or self-doubt set in.
Make a plan. How will you grow? How will you and your partner come together to support your growth in this area? What resources will you use? How much time will you commit to growth daily? Who will you ask to help keep you accountable? Do you want to work with a counselor or therapist to help you through this process? We have two tools designed to support you as you create your plan. 1 – The Thrive Catalog. It contains all of the best personal growth resources and you can search to find the best ones for you. I recommend choosing the Core filter to start. 2 – join our community by joining our newsletter. We are committed to providing high quality content, including blog posts, growth resource reviews, 30 day growth bootcamps, workshops and more. This is the best way to stay up to speed on everything we offer to support your growth plan. Be thoughtful about your plan. Create something meaningful for you.
Get into action. Just start. A common obstacle created by perfectionism is overthinking…everything…I know this firsthand, I’ve mastered the art of overthinking. I’ve learned that if I’m thoughtful with step 3, then I can trust that I just need to take action on my plan. It doesn’t need to be perfect for you to live into who you were created to be without worry of what others think. Today, take the first step and lean into the process.
Create a process for reflection. Remember, growth takes time. So don’t take action for one day, reflect the next, decide you’re not getting the results you want, and quit. One day isn’t long enough. Success is the result of lots of little steps taken over time. Steps that in the moment may seem insignificant, but they add up. There will be a moment when you look back and will see the results of all of the steps you have taken. Be persistent, and be patient. My recommendation – complete one book or online course in the Core level of the Evimero Couples Framework, then pause for reflection. The move to the next step of your growth plan.
It’s time for me to sign off, so my final words to my fellow perfectionists – I hope this is meaningful for you. I’ll be forever in your corner.
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