Over the years working as a psychotherapist, I’ve observed that many of my clients struggle with the need to be (or, more accurately, the fear of not being) perfect in whatever ways that they deem important. This phenomenon has, of course, a far wider reach than just those clients I, or my colleagues, see in our offices; it’s unquestionably a cultural phenomenon. As a result, we’ve learned to apply perfectionistic standards to almost every possible aspect of our lives including our work, our role as parents, our children, our hobbies, our appearance, our home, cars, and even our spirituality. So, how can those of us who struggle with the need to be perfect ever find inner peace in the midst all of the negative ‘chatter’ that takes place inside our heads? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. But, there is hope. And it begins with viewing ourselves as imperfect spiritual beings.
Some time ago, I read a powerful book, The Spirituality of Imperfection, by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham (1992), that offers us perfectionists another – and perhaps a more humane – way to consider ourselves. The back cover of the book sums it up, dare I say, perfectly?!
“ ‘I am not perfect’ is a simple statement of profound truth, the first
step toward understanding the human condition – for to deny your
essential imperfection is to deny your own humanity.”
I highly recommend this book, and I’ll be straight with you, it’s not a book about religion; rather, it’s a book about the spirituality of simply being human. It’s a delightful, wise, and inspiring read mainly because of the over one hundred wonderful stories within, most of which were tapped from many of the worlds’ diverse faiths and traditions. I recommend that once you read it, you don’t ever let it out of your sight because it will remain a powerful antidote to your negative self-talk. We can’t necessarily change the dominant cultural messages that we’re exposed to, but we do have the choice about how to respond to them. Deciding to simply accept our humanness – and our imperfection, by definition – is a huge first step out of the self-made prison that many of us have found ourselves trapped in for far too many years.
For myself, I can’t say the book has completely cured my own perfectionistic tendencies, but it has helped me considerably by causing me to re-evaluate the usefulness of continuing down the self-flagellating path that I had walked for many years. As a result, I’m much kinder to myself. And, in the end, as a wise group of people say, it’s all about progress, and not perfection.