"Perfectionism isn't sought out by the emotionally abused,
it is imposed."
I wrote this months and months ago - and finally it seems to have settled in as something I can live with.
As a child I really believed that I shouldn't make mistakes. that sounds quite mild -
"I shouldn't make mistakes"
But its not. Its not mild at all. It means the internal standard you have accepted for yourself is zero mistakes. Non. Anything less than that is failure.
Still I am not explaining it well. How about this..?
When I read a novel I used to wonder how the hero knew what to do. They knew the route to a successful conclusion. It was fundamental to their character that they knew this.
( So inversely I also believed there was something fundamentally wrong with me because I didn't know that route)
I didn't learn this oddness from books or film though, It wasn't that which set up this weird logic jump. It was not just the hero in a book - that's an easy one and should ( hopefully) show up the flaw in my thinking. It was also that other people, such as my parents, knew what to do. They always knew the right thing to do (so they said) and they also knew what I was doing wrong.
And there's the connection.
The idea that a story would be created with a beginning an end and that the character could perform any number of ridiculous acts and still get to the pre-decided ending - because that's how it was made up - not because life was really like that - occurred to me rather later than it should have. I thought there was some marked out route that I should be following. One that everybody (who wasn't me) knew.
Being different as a child is quite tragic and a pretty bad survival trait. So in order to fit in you hide what's different. You do this to not be bullied, to have an easier life, to pretend to be the normal that everyone else finds so apparently effortless. So I would agree with the wrongness of what I was doing - and hide it. Hide that somebody had to tell me I kept doing things wrong. That I didn't get normal social cues. Just hid it all. This is how we keep family secrets after all, especially abuse. We make the victim responsible for the wrong so they want to hide it.
I thought that I was trying to make up for some shortfall that existed in me that the family kept as a secret. (there was a lot of secret keeping - and I thought that was normal too) and following this logic, that's why all the criticism never happened in front of other people. They were keeping my shameful imperfections a secret. They were being nice to me, like I was being as nice as I could be to them. Not nice enough, obviously because I was shit at everything. But trying to be nice. But I was sure they were doing me a favour by only telling me how bad I was at things when other people weren't there.
Not all of my thinking was connected though. I would quite happily forgive and excuse the mistakes other people made, but as I said, the standard to which I had to live was zero mistakes.
I didn't question this, or even look at it critically. Knowing my best efforts were never good enough, I assumed I ALWAYS had to try harder. Double check everything.
Its so sad now to think of that child believing so strongly in her innate badness that she would never put the way she was expected to treat other people next to the way they treated her and say
"That's unfair - or unequal - or just plain wrong."
Why would I bring this thought to the fore some two plus years since being out of contact with my family of origin? Because last week I made a mistake.
A biggish one.
At the time I realized I had done it I thought it was catastrophic - but some very careful talking me down from a state of panic by my now family, and then later, the care and thoughtfulness with which my employer ( yes it was a work mistake) treated the whole thing, my colleagues gentle humour about the situation, and a complete failure to get fired or for the world to end in any way, was a bit of a revelation.
It has brought clearly into focus one thing though. As I catastrophised my way through possible outcomes I also beat myself up about being so stupid, as I am prone to doing - I throw all similar events on the same bonfire when I am feeling traumatized.
Its not useful - I wish I didn't - but even as I lashed around looking for similar crap to throw on this bonfire I noticed I had very little.
I don't often make mistakes - certainly not big ones. I've had some traumatic life events - but not precipitated by my own stupidity.
I'm careful, thoughtful, put others first and so on, consistant nice behaviour guides my slightly paranoid risk adverse way of living.
But as I looked back I also couldnt see why people wouldn't like me, why - quite specifically- my parents wouldn't like me.
I haven't done anything to make them dislike me. There are no mistakes in there that can be pointed at - no failure to reach potential - no asking endlessly for money - no thoughtlessness, no extreme opinions ..I'm just pretty average - takes effort - but there I am.
greedy difficult, stupid. I never rejected my roots or them. I am not criminal or negligent or nasty.
I am not unforgivable.
I make a mistake - learn from it - fix it if I can - and move on ( although I would quite like not to remember them, I do, and I try not to make them again. )
My parents don't do this, and because they don't do this they were only able to increasingly destroy their relationships with their children - never improve them. To never admit the possibility of failure, or to accept that a failure has happened, means you are not learning, or growing. For all blame of problems to be turned outwards means that problems cant be fixed and can only grow. Often in resentful silence.
My mother, when she makes a mistake, blames someone else. I think this means she is doomed to make similar mistakes over and over again and gradually think the world is against her.
She doesn't learn, she doesn't accept blame so she cant modify her behaviour, she cant move on. With only harsh and ineffective parenting models to work from she chose to assume that whatever she was doing was right.
And if it wasn't turning out the way she wanted - then it was the child's fault. - my fault.
The blame was, conveniently for her, mine to carry.
She would explain how I should "fix this" - obviously in private - trying to modify me so next time were were in public I would fit better with the narrative she had in her head of how her children should be.
Yet as a child I had no tools to fix myself with.
No understanding of how to achieve acceptance - or even what that required.
"Stop being bad "- translated as - "Stop being you"
I became a watchful reflection of her moods. uncertain of who I was because what I thought I knew was built on the quicksand of moods and endlessly disappointing her. I was bad and didn't understand why - so I hid myself and instead the child she had contact with was just a "Mirror child." I reflected back at her what she wanted to see, and this reflection and lying became my way of interacting with everyone.
I am however a much simpler creature now than I was, I make mistakes and I show myself compassion.
Self Compassion was a revelation to me. That I could use the forgiving and gentle voice I used for others who made mistakes upon myself. That I am no less a person for being occasionally wrong, and that the scale of acceptability for people doesn't start at perfect for anyone.
Nor do I know what perfect would look like, but it occurs to me that as our needs and wants change and flicker, so "perfect" could only be a mirror of that, never a thing actually embodied in another person. The need to "perfect" someone else is a flaw in in itself and one that, projected onto a child, creates a personality that changes (watchfully) in response to the parents need.
and so I have come back full circle to the mirror child. It is odd how this happens and themes come back again and again.