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The Myth of Perfectionism: I Can’t Make Me Happy

I think all the time. I have always been overly cognitive. Inhabiting my body was not safe when I was a child. I invented a much nicer world in my head and it helped me through some horrible situations.

But constant thinking is a recipe for disaster. It is easy to take small things and turn them in to big things. That’s how the brain works. It stays in charge that way.

The problem with the “brain on trauma” is the creation of problems that do not exist. The brain will take those old, separated emotions and create a problem to accompany them. Then, the brain will create all sorts of approaches to resolve the nonexistent problem. This overactive brain of mine has led to heavy anxiety levels and an exhaustion that reflects running a marathon a day.

While constant daily “planning” can lead to exhaustion, it also leads to another detrimental problem: expectations. In order to meet my needs for safety through general life perfection, everyone must meet my expectations. Since I believe I have life figured out, life can become disappointing very quickly, because life is not something that can be figured out.

While some of my expectations are unfairly aimed at the people around me, most of my expectations fall squarely on me. And there is nothing worse than failing to meet my own unrealistic expectations. The punishment never stops. I can’t get away from me.

Although I have learned to ease up on myself in many areas of my life, I am abusive about my parenting. When I say I am abusive, I don’t mean I am abusive to my children. I mean I am abusive to me. Every time I yell at my children, the nasty internal chastising begins. “You promised to end the cycle. You promised to be a good parent. You are supposed to leave the old dysfunction behind. You aren’t allowed to yell, to have a bad day, to say the wrong thing, to be a human being.”

I made an unrealistic pact with myself to be perfect. And I am constantly disappointing myself. So when I attended a parenting workshop recently, imagine my surprise when the instructor mentioned her thoughts on breaking cycles. She said these changes in parenting will take generations. She said that if we can move the meter just a little, we are doing amazingly well.

The part of me with the unrealistic expectations wanted to scream about how that just wasn’t enough. We must achieve perfection and we must achieve it now. We don’t have time. We don’t have generations.

It is this part I have answered to all these years, that I rebel against when the expectations get overwhelming. And it is the battles with this part that drain my energy to a bare minimum, making it more difficult to be a good parent.

So maybe there is a way to ease the pressure. Maybe there is a way to change my expectations slightly and give myself a little less trouble when I am not having a peaceful parenting moment. Maybe those expectations just make the bad days worse. Maybe, just maybe, I could benefit from a little benefit of the doubt. I am, after all, only human. And I am attempting to break a cycle that has lasted for generations upon generations. If it were easy, others would have figured it out by now, and my childhood would have been much different.

So yesterday, when I told my son that he “blew it,” I knew I should not have said it. I knew I was not being the parent I wanted to be. And unlike years before, I knew it quickly. So I said I was sorry. I said I understood that he was nervous. I said I totally got why he couldn’t handle the pressure. And he took a deep breath of relief.

But I didn’t, because I had to go through hours of self-analysis and abusive internal comments. I had to spend time evaluating why I just can’t seem to figure out how to be a perfect parent. Why do I always have to say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing? Why can’t I just be better?

I’m making an effort to stop it. Of course, expecting to instantly stop my expectations seems a bit ridiculous. I have to expect that my expectations will take time to shift. I have to be easy on myself, even the part of me that is too critical.

The inner critic is a part of me too, a part that needs love. I just need to shift my awareness to my expectations and say, “Oh look. I am expecting again.” No judgment. No expectation to stop expecting. And slowly, things will shift because they do. Slowly, my energy will redirect from that internal battle to living life. Magically, I will be a better parent, because I am not expecting to be a perfect parent.

Child thinking photo available from Shutterstock

The Myth of Perfectionism: I Can’t Make Me Happy


Elisabeth Corey

Elisabeth Corey is a survivor of family-controlled child sex trafficking and ritual sex abuse. Her education in social work and her personal experiences as a survivor inform her intimate discussion about the biological, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of trauma recovery, which she discusses on her blog at BeatingTrauma.com. She writes about breaking the cycle of abuse through conscious parenting, navigating intimate relationships as a survivor, balancing the memory recovery process with daily life, coping with self-doubt, and overcoming the physical symptoms of a traumatic childhood.


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APA Reference
Corey, E. (2018). The Myth of Perfectionism: I Can’t Make Me Happy. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 12, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/i-cant-make-me-happy/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.