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Lili had it all. The perfect house, the perfect job, the perfect husband, and the perfect child. Her house was spotless; there was never a crumb on the table for anyone to notice. Her appearance was supine; she always made sure to keep herself slender and up-to-date with the latest fashion trends. Her husband had the perfect job and made plenty of money. Her child was doing well in school. On the outside, it looked like Lili had the perfect life. Nobody would say otherwise.
But at night after everyone had gone to sleep, Lili would put her head down and cry. She was so incredibly lonely. She was exhausted from working long hours and then trying to do what it took to help her daughter with anything she needed. Sometimes she just wanted to wear sweats and a t-shirt, and not worry about how her hair looked or what makeup she wore. But she couldn’t manage to do it, no matter how much she wanted to. She knew something was wrong, but she couldn’t imagine telling any of her friends, all of whom also seemed perfect. Sometimes she just wanted to scream.
Perfectionism. So many of us struggle with it. We serve as chameleons, trying to be everything to everyone, trying to exist for the sake of others. We ignore or stuff our own emotions or human weaknesses in order to appear a certain way to others. We may dress perfectly or make sure our house looks perfect. The fear of being exposed for anything less than is terrifying. What will people think?
The fear of vulnerability, or exposing our own shortcomings to others can sometimes be so strong that we will do anything to avoid it. It is so frightening to ask for help or to appear “weak”, that many of us will go to great lengths to avoid doing so. If you or someone you know struggles with being vulnerable, or having too high of expectations of oneself, here’s what to know.
1. Nobody is Perfect. What Lili didn’t realize is that not one of her friends was happy at home. One of them was on the verge of divorce. The other was struggling with a son who had early signs of a Bipolar Disorder. Each one of them had something that was perceived as “imperfect” in their lives. But like so many of us, they hid it because of the fear of exposure. So many of us think that we are the only ones who are facing a struggle in our own lives. This is far from true. Everybody, to one degree or another, is struggling with some sort of personal battle.
2. Being Vulnerable Brings Us Closer to Others. Many new mothers are overwhelmed and unhappy after the birth of their first child. They don’t know how to handle the new responsibility, or they don’t know how to bond with their new baby right away. But so many mothers pretend that they are happy, and post beautiful photos on Facebook. When a new mom finally breaks down and tells a friend that she is having a hard time, that friend who is also having a hard time will be relieved that she is not alone. Suddenly, they can laugh and banter back and forth about the difficulties of new motherhood. But if each of them pretends that they are doing fine, it is the same as keeping a secret. Secrets and phoniness keep us separated from other people. In turn, we will feel lonelier and more depressed because we aren’t showing our own raw, human side. Moreover, people feel more uncomfortable showing their weaknesses to someone who appears “perfect”. If we learn to drop the pretense and become more vulnerable in front of others, we will find that not only do we have a lot of company, but we enjoy a more quality relationship with others.
3. Vulnerability Takes Practice. If you have been keeping up pretenses your entire life, it’s hard to simply drop all boundaries and show a vulnerable side. And nor should you do so, all at once. Being vulnerable, like any other habit, takes practice. Start with a close friend or therapist, and express one or two things about yourself that you have kept inside. You’ll be surprised at how much they will underreact to your confession. Our minds project the worst possible scenario at times, and we worry about being judged. Instead, start slowly, and try to be vulnerable with those you trust the most. Then, work your way into showing vulnerability to others. Finally, vulnerability is not a black or white concept; it can be practiced when you feel most comfortable, with those you feel comfortable with. No need to tell the Starbucks barista your sob story!
Vulnerability is Possible
So many of us assume that vulnerability is a weakness, but perfectionism is actually the weakness. At the root of perfectionism is fear, and vulnerability shows incredibly bravery. That being said, showing vulnerability to others is something that must be practiced, so be gentle on yourself if it feels uncomfortable at first. In time, you will find yourself lightening up, letting go, and learning to laugh at yourself.
Do you or someone you know struggle with perfectionism? Are you always worrying what other people think of you? If so, please contact Straight Talk Clinic at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at straighttalkcounseling.org. One of our professional counselors would be happy to speak with you.