Happy Mother’s and Father’s Day: How to Enjoy Life While Being Less Perfect

In my work as a cognitive behavioral therapist, I see perfectionism bubbling under the surface for many people. It is usually more pronounced in someone who is more prone to anxiety, but my observation is that the average human is wired for good. We want to perform well, feel well, and have everything go well all of the time.

Wired for Good

Now, this is where people usually refute me and say, “Lisa, I know I’m not perfect and I never will be. I know things can’t go well all of the time!” My response is usually, “Don’t worry, I know you’re not perfect and never will be and I know you know stuff will go wrong sometimes.” But that intellectual knowledge usually does not remove the desire, and sometimes even demand, for good in ourselves and in our lives. I completely agree that it is good to want good and would never discourage a human from trying. The work that needs to be done is how we respond to the inherent (dare I say?) “weaknesses” that come with being human and the situations that don’t go well as a result of living in an imperfect world with imperfect people (including ourselves). The response to this imperfection is what distinguishes between someone who can be content and enjoy life most of the time and someone who is always frazzled, distressed, and running around trying to figure out how to get it right, darn it!

Observe the following two responses and see if you can identify the intolerance of imperfection:

Situation #1

  1. Something goes wrong and/or a weakness of mine is exposed
  2. Emotional response: Shame, dread, guilt, impending sense of doom
  3. Thought response: Oh no! What happened? What am I going to do? People will find out I’m not that good! MUST. FIX. NOW!!!!!!
  4. Outcome: Avoid people or situations where this could happen again, isolation, trying to get validation or reassurance from loved ones or trying to fix things. 

Situation #2

  1. Something goes wrong and/or a weakness of mine is exposed
  2. Emotional response: Embarrassment, disappointment
  3. Thought response: This stinks. I prefer it when things go well. I usually do this pretty well. Yep, things go wrong sometimes. 
  4. Outcome: Apologize if necessary, problem solve and learn from the situation. Move on to the next thing that was going to happen anyway with the conscious awareness and commitment to not getting it “right.” 

The Cure for Perfectionism

In my own life, in the lives of people I know personally and people I get to help through therapy, I have observed a most effective way to resist this desire for perfection: parenting!  Has anyone figured out how to get parenting “right”? I don’t think so! And how much do you enjoy spending time with people who seem to have it “all together”? Even if you are not a parent, you know the dynamics of trying to get it “right” in many areas of life! But look to the parents for how to deal with it. They are the ones who, no matter how smart, how loving, how well-intentioned, are not going to get it right and have to keep showing up anyway!

We started by looking at the individual desire for good and perfection, yet imperfection is the reality of being human. Now multiply that imperfection when said human has accepted the responsibility for caring for and raising another imperfect human! There is definitely no getting it right in that scenario!

When they’re babies, they rarely eat and sleep on the “right” schedule. As they start moving, they do and say things they shouldn’t and make you look like the worst parent on the planet. Don’t even get me started on adolescence!  Through each stage, a parent tries, wants good for the child, and then has a choice to make when the imperfect human child does not comply with expectations or plans or when they experience very real pain and difficulty. Does the parent get very upset and double down on efforts to get it right? Or does the parent accept the inherent imperfection in the humans and keep moving with a connected relationship and keep trying for good?

The Difference: Humility and Acceptance

My favorite definition of humility is, “a form of temperance that is neither having pride nor indulging in self-deprecation.” (Merriam Webster Online Dictionary) This tension allows one to want and try for the good without needing to be certain it will be achieved, and it allows one to accept the position of being human and therefore imperfect. Humility says, “I was wrong and will keep trying.” I’ve found that a good sense of humor helps with this trait!   

Acceptance is a beautiful state of being. It doesn’t mean, “Just accept it,” which is a little like saying, “Just be quiet.” Similar to humility, acceptance doesn’t mean you have to like something, just that you’re willing to acknowledge the state of the imperfect world and engage in it anyway. 

Instead of signing up for all the right activities, picking the right school, having the right friends, driving the right car, and having children who do the right thing all of the time (while always looking on point), I would like to suggest this recipe:

Desire for good + Try and care + Humility + Acceptance =

Someone who is generally content and enjoys life

This gives you the choice to discern and permission to change, if necessary, the academic environment you think your child will thrive in, what activities your family and your child enjoy, the people you choose to include in your life, the type of car you select to meet your standards of comfort, size and safety and the values you use to raise your children, with lots of grace for mistakes (while wearing something you can find that is mostly clean)!

SPOILER ALERT: People are going to disappoint you, you are going to disappoint yourself, even good ideas and good efforts aren’t going to produce what you hoped. But some will! Adopt a position of acceptance along with curiosity and growth. You have to try if you want to live.  

Your imperfections along with what you do well are what makes this world so interesting and beautiful and what makes life such a great adventure! I think that’s what we want our children to believe, right? It starts with you.

Do you want to stop trying to get it right but think you may need help?  Contact us today!

Help for Wellness (HFW) provides therapy to individuals, couples, families, and groups to help them unlock their potential to live healthier, happier, and more fulfilled lives. Learn more about the specific services we offer and contact us to schedule your free 20-minute consultation today!

Lisa Murphy
Lisa Murphy (#25280), a licensed Clinical Social Worker, works with individuals struggling to manifest healthy behaviors personally and/or within relationships. She is passionate about helping clients identify and break free of unhealthy patterns to establish healthier behaviors and relationships.