I was born my mother’s daughter. My mother is a perfectionist of the highest order. And she passed that lovely trait down to me.
Wikipedia describes the phenomenon of perfectionism as such:
“Perfectionism, in psychology, is a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations. It is best conceptualized as a multidimensional characteristic, as psychologists agree that there are many positive and negative aspects. In it’s maladaptive form, perfectionism drives people to attempt to achieve an unattainable ideal, and their adaptive perfectionism can sometimes motivate them to reach their goals. In the end, they derive pleasure from doing so. When perfectionists do not reach their goals, they often fall into depression.”
The American Heritage Dictionary defines “perfectionist” this way:
When you are a person that has the trait of perfectionism, you see everything through a critical eye. You know (at least you think you know) exactly how things should be and how people should be. You know how you should be.
And when things and/or people don’t meet the specific criteria that you believe is correct, you tend to freak out a little (or alot), depending on the importance of that particular situation.
Many times, a perfectionist will go to great lengths to ensure that a situation turns out the way they think it should turn out.
If there is any way that the perfectionist can make something happen “the right way”, then you can be sure that person will do whatever it takes to make sure of a good outcome. No matter what.
A perfectionist is usually driven by an inner force that is almost impossible to shut off, or even turn down. The urge to control their surroundings and make everything fall into line is almost irrepressible.
And often, the perfectionist finds herself/himself miserable due to the inability to control the world around them, no matter how hard they try.
And really, perfectionism is all about control.
Now picture this….imagine a perfectionist that suffers from chronic illness. Specifically, chronic pain.
Imagine this person trying to maintain order in their world during a flare up. It’s a recipe for disaster, lemme tell ya.
I am currently in a nasty flare up of severe and chronic tendinitis and plantar fasciitis in both my feet. I also have fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis, but the main problem right now is that I can’t walk on these feet without extreme pain.
So I am in what I call “down time”, which means that my life has been put on hold, I am in “time out”, I am out of commission. I am living life sitting on my butt or laying on the couch, waiting for the inflammation to ease up.
This forced “down time” could easily take weeks or even months to calm down to where I can resume my life and activity again. If I don’t stay off my feet the pain will only get worse, and it is already way off the charts.
When it hits the “panic stage” I know that I have no choice but to stop everything and obey the pain. I am in that stage now.
So. Here I am, a perfectionist, unable to do much of anything at the moment . I have to sit or lay on the couch, or sit in the recliner with my feet up….and wait.
This means that I will have to rely on my husband to take care of things for me. Even though he has a full-time job that requires him to work about 10 hours a day, he will now be required to take care of meals, laundry, keeping the house cleaned up and any other needs that arise.
If something needs doing, I will need to wait for him to get home before that “thing” will be taken care of. I will need to wait. Oh boy.
When you are a perfectionist, you prefer to do things your way. Not someone else’s way. You like to cook your way, clean your way, do everything your way. You get comfortable doing things your way.
So when you are suddenly forced to stop doing anything, such as when you are in a flare up…..”your way” is thrown out the window.
When you rely on others to do things for you, you have no choice but to kindly and gratefully accept things “their way”, and you don’t complain.
I am lucky enough to have a husband who is very supportive and kind. He is understanding regarding my illnesses and knows that from time to time, being the Type A personality that I am, I tend to push myself so hard every day despite my illnesses, that I find myself in flare ups occasionally…some worse than others.
When I inform him that I am in “a Flare Up From The Deepest Pits Of Hell”….he knows that I will be incapacitated for awhile and he will be in charge. Not only does he not complain but he lets me know that it’s okay, and he will take over.
I am so grateful for this man, and his willingness to help. But because I am a perfectionist, it is really hard for me to accept help.
Even though I am pretty helpless right now on my own….it is still very difficult for me to just sit there and say, “could you please get me a bottle of water” or “can you bring me my medicine” or “could you please do my dirty laundry?” It makes me want to grind my teeth. It makes me want to ball my fists up and scream. Because to be unable to do these things myself nearly makes me crazy.
I hate being dependent on him, or anyone. To sit there and ask for things, well…. I’d rather just get up and do it myself.
Sometimes I just DO get up and do it myself. Even if it means that I have to walk on these inflamed, excruciating feet. To have to be patient and wait to ask him for something that is right there in plain sight, like a bottle of water that is across the room….is almost more than I can bear, even in spite of the pain.
It is a real challenge now, to see if I can make myself wait until he comes back in the room so I can ask for the bottle of water. Sometimes I can wait, but my patience is so short that many times I just get up and hobble over, pick up the water, and hobble back. And then I think of something else that I need, and hop up again.
He might be busy in another part of the house and I can’t sit still long enough to wait. I am learning once again how ridiculously impatient I am. And how even excruciating pain may not be enough to curb that insanely powerful drive to control my world.
For now though, I have to just reign in the perfectionism, the urge to control, the need to do things my way, in my time, when I want. I need to be patient, to allow another person to help me, to do things for me and to allow myself to rest and heal. I don’t know why this is so extremely hard for me.
I think it’s because for all these years, in my mind….my body and I have been at war….and I think in my deepest core, I feel like I am losing the fight when my body forces me to lay down.
My fiercly independent mind cannot stand to be controlled by my pain-wracked body. But as I learned long ago, and many times since…..you must obey the pain. If you don’t obey it at first, if you ignore it and try to keep going….you will be sorry, because eventually the pain will win and it will slam you down.
So……I have a choice here. This situation can be looked at in one of two ways. Either I can squirm, fuss and be miserable, or I can accept this challenge and use it as another life lesson taught to me by the pain (the very thing that I struggle against every day).
I can say to my perfectionist mind…You can CHOOSE to use this time to control your ansty, impatient self, and you can CHOOSE to turn this time around as something positive, beneficial and empowering.
If I decide to turn this time around, and make it into something positive….then I win. The pain does not win. If I choose to use this “down time” to improve myself and my attitude, then I can still be in control.
I learned this concept on how to deal with pain and my attitudes regarding pain from a book, now out of print, but still in limited availability online. The book’s title is “The Path To Pain Control” by Meg Bogin.
If you have chronic pain and also have control issues or perfectionism like me, or even if you only have chronic pain without these issues I struggle with…..I still highly, highly recommend this book. Ms Bogin taught me how to “turn the pain around” and use it in a way that lets you still retain your control.
It’s all in how you look at it. And every time I find myself in a flare up like this one I am currently in, I find my copy of this book, dust it off and read it again.
It has truly made a huge difference in my life. Sometimes I forget it’s precepts when I am up and running, but during the “down times”, I have a chance to remind myself once again.
We all have choices in life. Even if it appears like we don’t. There are opportunities in every situation to learn, to grow and to heal. I am going to choose those things in my current situation. At least I’m going to try.