When I was growing up, my parents wanted me to be perfect. They were very clear that I must exceed all standards. They wanted me to have perfect grades, perfect looks, perfect extracurricular activities. They pressured me to be the picture of everything society wanted from a human being.
This expectation created a storm inside me. I was sure I was none of those things. I had been abused long enough to know I had no real worth. I was sure I had nothing to offer the world. I was an imposter. I had no value to add to the human race. I was only here to be victimized. I was constantly playing tug of war with my external mask of perfection and my internal self-hatred. I could not handle failure. I could not handle rejection. It wasn’t that I didn’t see it coming. I knew it was inevitable because it was the truth. And it would blow my cover.
I worked hard to be accepted by everyone. I was an obsessive overachiever. And all the teachers, coaches and other authority figures loved me. But when they didn’t, I thought my world would come to an end. I was sure my life would be in danger if people found out my real worth. And that was a lot of pressure.
But I have come to realize that I am no different than everyone else. Everyone feels the tug of unworthiness. Everyone is waiting to be found out. My parents definitely felt it because they passed it on to me. My friends feel it. My children feel it.
I see it in the people I interact with everyday. Insecurity runs rampant. And it triggers me, which must mean I can relate. I see the constant need to prove worthiness in sports, in school, in activities. “My kid does more things.” “My kid does them better.” “My kid is smarter.” And I am not suggesting that they say those things out loud. But it is in their actions. It is under the surface.
I often wonder what it would feel like to live without the sense of unworthiness. I wonder how to convince my children that they don’t have to hide behind a mask of perfection. I try not to use that word. We say “practice makes good enough” in our family. I try not to push them to meet standards set in schools, standards that were never created to benefit their self-esteem, standards that were created to continue the comparison to others. They are smart and they love to learn. That is what matters to me.
I don’t push them in sports. There really is no point. They are small for their age, which makes them less competitive in most sports. And as a single mother, they are not getting the sports messages from me that some kids get. So while I want them to understand that they have to work at something, I don’t want them to think they have to be great at it. If they enjoy it, that is what matters.
I have to be honest. I don’t know what I would do if they were prodigies or unusually talented athletes. Would I fall victim to the feeling of superiority? Would I allow my children’s talents to fill that void of unworthiness within me? Would I become one of those people who seeks out glory through projection? I don’t know. I am not faced with that decision at this time.
I am not sure it matters. Whether we exceed, meet, defy or ignore the standards, we still know they are there. The kids still know they are there. The standards have been internalized and they are making their mark on our inner being. We are forgetting that we are here for something completely different and we are missing the point completely.
Aren’t we here to remove the masks and stop the overachievement, defiance or any other behavior that plays in to the comparison between people? What if we are here to be who we are, without the pressure of competition and comparison? What if the goal was to embody ourselves so fully, so completely, that others couldn’t even ask what our latest test scores were? They would be too mesmerized by our being. And we were perfect because we were.
I ask these questions because I get the sense that my children are asking this of me. They don’t say it, but they embody it. Recently my son looked at me with the most loving expression and said I was his perfect mother. He didn’t say it because I had just done something amazing, won a race, or aced a test. He said it because I was sitting with him, giving him my attention, focusing on him in the present moment. And it was perfect because there was nothing to compare it to. It was perfect because it was.
The perfect child photo available from Shutterstock