I am in awe of my son, and I am smiling just thinking of him. He is constantly asking questions and challenging my husband and me in ways I never imagined. He is three years old and is already one of the kindest, most thoughtful people I know. Don’t get me wrong; he is a typical three-year-old in many respects. He has temper tantrums that could easily empty a restaurant; he is fiercely independent, and “NO! I want to do it myself” is heard a million times a day in our home.
But tonight I was caught off guard. I had just read him his favorite book, Thomas the Tank Engine, tucked him into his bed and we were snuggling. He looked over at me and said, “I love you mommy.” I smiled pulled him closer and replied, “I love you too.” Then he continued, “Do you love you?”
I was momentarily speechless.
I thought to myself, do I? I don’t know? Do I love myself? What is the correct answer here? What if I don’t? Am I about to make another parenting mistake scaring him for life?
I paused, took a breath and mindfully replied, “Yes I do” and he smiled up at me and said, “I love me too.” Wow. I did it. I did not scar him this time!
I don’t think, two years ago, I would have been able to truly say “Yes” to my son. I probably would have thought I loved myself, but didn’t actually know what that meant. I was a perfectionist and full of anger, but I didn’t even know it. I was an endurance athlete, took great care of my body, ate fairly well, was always at the top of my class, had a spotless house, worked hard all of the time and loved my job and my husband. Everything was “perfect.”
What I have learned in the last two years is there is no such thing as perfect. Initially, this concept was unacceptable to me, as it would have been to any good perfectionist. Of course perfect exists. All I have to do is…change everything…then I will be perfect. Let me repeat that in case you didn’t hear me the first time.
Perfect doesn’t exist.
This concept was life changing for me. I had always been striving for more, to be better, to be perfect. Now what? This was a big blow to who I was and who I thought I was supposed to be.
Driving to and from work, I recently listened to Brene Brown’s book The Power of Vulnerability and am now finishing The Gifts of Imperfection. In her books and her research, Brown describes perfectionism as a “ twenty-ton shield” we use to protect ourselves from the world. This is the same concept Dr. Shawn Haywood and I have been working on for two years. Shawn has described perfectionism as a way to numb ourselves and avoid or suppress our emotions so that we can keep moving forward. However, moving forward doesn’t mean truly living and enjoying life. That used to be me. I was always doing better and moving forward, but I was unhappy a lot.
I think that as adults we don't take enough time to truly honor and love ourselves. I know it sounds mushy; if I had read this blog two years ago, I probably would have either closed it by now or gotten that deep visceral feeling of disgust and maybe even thrown up in my mouth just a little bit. But honestly, how do you honor and love yourself? Are you putting the oxygen mask on your face first, or are you always concerned with everyone else?
Maybe it is time you stopped, took a deep breath in and asked yourself, “Do I love me?” If the answer is yes, and truly yes, then great. You are in a better place than many of us. If you are unsure or worse, the answer is no, meaning it is time to make a change.
I am a work in progress. I am a recovering perfectionist; I am working on letting go of anger, fear and shame daily. I am learning to face my emotions and sit with them as they come. Some days I am really good at it, and other days I am not. But through this very uncomfortable process, I have truly learned to love who I am and let down my shield so the world can see me for exactly who I am.