Shame, Guilt, and the Perfectionist

How hard is it to have an idea of what *should* be happening, how we *should* be reacting, what we *should* be accomplishing, and how we *should* be parenting and then feel like you *should* know better how to figure out how to do it all?

It’s tough.

In moderation, comparison and the *shoulds* act like a series of checks and balances of who we want to be, guiding us in the direction we want to go in so we can get farther along the path of what type of person we want to be.  As in, “I should go to bed now rather than watch another episode on Netflix so I’m not a cranky nag in the morning.”  And it’s true.  As much as I would LOVE to stay up until midnight watching just one more episode on Netflix, my goal is to be an emotionally present and safe Mom.  Those two don’t work.  I *should* go to bed because of who I want to be.

But there’s other pulls we, as Moms, and I imagine humans, struggle through.  I’m guessing I’m not the only.  The downside of comparing ourselves in the interest of self-improvement is that it is so easy to get carried away with what we should be doing that we lose ourselves completely.  Perhaps if the should involves a question, it should be a red flag.

“She works a full week and still manages to hold her household together and have three kids.  I should be able to do that too.”  Should I be able to do that too?

“Money is tight and other women choose to or need to return to work.  Maybe I should just suck it up and go back to work too.”

“Wow.  She raised her kids alone, working three jobs and still managed to finish her master’s degree…all on a pre-union teacher’s salary.  What kind of a weak person am I that I even wonder whether I should finish my bachelor’s degree program part time right now?”

Guilt creeps in knowing that others might struggle more with fewer options…that others are more capable of being involved outside the home…wondering if one’s priorities are placed correctly…

Shame follows, not being able to answer some of these seemingly simple questions.  Indecision.

Doing well at something feels good.  Success feels good.  Success does have the wonderful characteristic that it can be defined though.

So, today, I take back ownership of defining my success.  I have a much clearer idea of who I am when I don’t doubt myself.  I’m letting the questioning “shoulds” be and instead take up a new question: “Am I creating something positive with this decision?”

I felt guilt knitting because I have the time.  But I am creating…knitting a sweater for my son.

I felt guilt taking my son to the lake to watch the water sparkle and honk at the geese….because I have the time when I know others don’t.  But I am creating a strong body for myself and wonder for my boy in doing so.

*Should* is going to get redefined around here.

I have two good reminders to do so too…

Question readers: Is there a *should* that you’re struggling with or have struggled with?  How did you deal with it?  Absolutely.  (see above ;D).  I hope to deal with it by addressing the situation I find myself in rather than compensating for every hypothetical or unfavorable situation I or others might find themselves in…to work with my strengths and weaknesses toward my own and my family’s goals.



4 responses to “Shame, Guilt, and the Perfectionist

  1. Do you consider yourself a perfectionist? I’m married to one. It’s a blessing and a curse. It’s a cross for her to bear for certain.

    Being married to somebody who is perfect in every way is bliss–for me. But I am a witness to a struggle to maintain the impossible standard of perfection. It can be crippling. I watch as the struggle can the perfectionist to back away from an opportunity to grow. The ‘fear’ of not being able to maintain perfection can be a show stopper. Building the confidence to step up and try is the key. I’ve seen it before, and I sense it in your latest post.

    Standards are great. And goals are even better. But don’t let failure cripple you. Active kids, a full-time job, zero spare cash, and getting a masters degree, all using a single dimension in the space-time continuum, is a lofty goal. Cloning is a possibility!

    I like the notion of bucket lists myself. Type “A” personalities are wound pretty tight. I’m not so sure converting yourself into one is a good goal. Make the list, add stuff to your bucket as you skip down your path. Every journey of 10,000 steps starts with the first one.

    Your Grandpa Seymour was pretty upset recently. The odometer on his stationary bike quit. “Cheap Chinese junk” was the gasp. Then I asked where the odometer stopped. 26,500 miles! I said: “Dad, do you realize you pedaled that bike the equivalent of around the world at the equator? Give it a rest!” That made him laugh. You may need to evaluate the “worth” of all the stuff in your bucket already! I’m pretty sure those tokens had a high price tag. They are precious!

    Love your posts. Glad to see you are back in the game!

  2. Love your thoughts and genuineness, Bee. I like to notice how we all wrestle with the difference between self and “other” our whole lives. Our first “other” is our parents. They naturally export their shoulds to us. They help establish our model of how self should be with respect to other. We then spend our whole lives trying to differentiate between self and other. What’s important to me, as distinct from what’s important to other? How do I think, feel and behave, as distinct from how other wants me to think, feel and behave? Am I being my own person, or am I being the person others want me to be (the shoulds)? I remember at 20 I thought I knew the difference between self and other. But by 30, I had discovered much more of self had been borrowed from other than I had previously realized. The same thing happened at 40, 50 and now nearly 60. I’m still differentiating self from other on a daily basis, and enjoying the journey. I’m freeing myself from the tyranny of the shoulds. From the tyranny of other. Not because they’re tyrannical. But because I’ve been socialized to be tyrannized. I free myself not by doing the opposite of other. Nor by doing the same as other. But by calmly inviting other out of the room for a moment, and asking self what HE honestly thinks and feels — without the influence of other. I find I have a compass inside of me. When left to myself, it points to true north for me. It asks the right questions. It intuits the right stuff for me. Others are like magnets to my compass. They invariably influence my compass. To free myself from the shoulds, I first like to genuinely hear from myself first. Then I can welcome their perspectives. Because I can hear the difference between self and other.

    Thanks for giving your sons such a loving model of other. Here’s to welcoming the shoulds as just another perspective. Not a tyranny. Not a should. Just another alternative for us to evaluate on our journey toward self-differentation. Love you!

  3. Wow what an awesome article — thanks for sharing Gweeg.

  4. You made some good points near. I looked by the internet for the deliver and found most individuals will exit down with with your website.

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