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Perfectionism and guilt

I know of no-one - myself included! - with our kind of problems, who has not suffered agonies of guilt at one time or another - usually over things which are not our fault, or which we have no control over. We're "letting down" family, friends, employers, colleagues; we're "pushing people away" because they don't understand and we can't explain; we're not "pulling our weight"; we should "snap out of it"; we're a "pain in the neck", the "spectre at the feast"! I'm sure you could all add more!

What I call the current "culture of perfectionism" doesn't help either. I'm not getting onto a religious tack here, I'm a confused agnostic, but, as an historian, it seems to me that, as the prospect in the Western world of a "heaven" of unimaginable bliss has receded, it has become more and more important that THIS life is "perfect" - an unattainable goal! I've read that, nowadays, the average wedding costs more in £1,000 than it lasts in years - like £15,000 for the wedding, divorce in 11 years!!! And why? Because the "wedding" - perhaps like the marriage! - has to be "perfect" and brides have a meltdown if the table flowers aren't the EXACT same shade of blue as the bridesmaids' dresses. The same with houses - you mean you DON'T have pretty (and pretty useless, in my opinion!) little cushions on top of your pillows, which have to match the entirely useless folded throw at the end of the bed, which has to pick up the exact shade of green in the bedroom curtains which has to match the ...... well, you get the idea!

Perfectionism - and I speak as a "recovering perfectionist" - is a curse. Life ain't perfect, and we can't make it so. Perfectionism can make you obsessive, neurotic, or, at worst, paralysed. When i was coming up for my Finals at university, and was in line for a First Class Degree, (and, yes, was having a meltdown!) someone tried to cheer me up by saying "Well, even if you don't get a First, you'll get a very good Upper Second, won't you?" "That's no comfort" retorted this perfectionist. For me, it was a First or nothing! Ridiculous? Of course it was!

Going back to guilt - real and imagined - yes, there are times when perhaps we should feel a little guilt. I was brought up a Roman Catholic, and the RC church in those days MAJORED in guilt!!!! :( But - in my experience, people who SHOULD feel guilty generally don't! Rapists, murderers, thieves and rogues - they rarely if ever suffer "guilt". The rapist - "She led me on!" "She was asking for it!" The aggressive driver who writes off your little supermini doesn't feel guilty; YOU shouldn't have been in THEIR way! THEIR appointment was more important than anything in YOUR life - almost, indeed, more important THAN your life!

So has guilt any place in life? Well, yes, but a much smaller one than most of us would imagine. If we've genuinely hurt someone - a cutting remark we regret as soon as it's said, a forgotten birthday/anniversary, not visiting a friend in hospital because it clashed with a hair appointment - well, yes, a little guilt is probably healthy - but can also be assuaged by an apology, a reparation, an explanation. But the paroxysms of guilt we suffer because of our illness, because we're a "bad" friend, a "bad" parent, a "bad" employee - no, not helpful, not healthy, and usually not justified!

Neither the world, people, nor life are perfect; to expect ourselves to be is, frankly, a bit big-headed. I love the philosophy expressed by John Manly, the groom in "Black Beauty":-

Just do your best, and leave the rest.

It will all come right, some day or night!

In an imperfect world, "good enough" really is - good enough!

A happy, peaceful, and guilt-free New Year.




5 Replies

Rose. Oh my goodness, how true. I suppose most of us remember "The Good Life" where Penelope Keith took the part of a frustrated middle class housewife. She was like you say. Full of herself and if it wasn't up to her standard it was no good. Many thanks for the blog. Rose. Keep well. Love. jonathan.


Absolutely, Jonathan! i love the one where she sends her whole "Christmas" back because the 8 ft tree she ordered is only 7ft 8 inches! :-D Priceless!!!


Rose xxx


Funny how we try to be perfectionists when the world was born out of chaos, and we seem to be the only species to try to put it in impossibility.....funny old


Very true - and we're supposed to be brighter than the animals! ;) xx


so true xxx


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