When I was a child, I learned not to make mistakes.
Now, perfectionism is a pretty complex concept. By no means am I saying i fully grasped it; my four-year-old brain didn’t quite understand what it was learning. All I knew was, “If I do things just right, grown-ups will be happy.”
Unfortunately, that’s a lesson I can’t quite shake.
I always thought perfectionism was a good thing, a motivator to make me bring my best self and do my best work. But perfectionism has a cost. If I make a mistake–if I don’t get it right on the first try every time–the criticism starts, and it doesn’t let up.
My therapist and I talked about inner-child work recently. (Apparently shit that happened to you as a kid can fuck you up as an adult–surprise, surprise.) Yesterday she asked me to find a picture of me as a child and imagine the picture was real, that I was talking to my four-year-old self. How would I respond to her if she told me she felt like she wasn’t good enough?
Would I reinforce her doubts, break her heart further?
Or would I wipe her tears, pull her into my arms, and tell her she’s spectacular–just as she is?
I’ve gone with the former for most of my life, mistakenly believing shame and criticism were effective motivators. Effective in the short term? Absolutely. But the long term damage isn’t worth it.
And four-year-old me deserves the support she didn’t feel she had.