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Perfectionism Versus Compassion

Author: Jackie Joens

There is no denying that we live in a society that values perfection.  If you look around you, there are signs of it everywhere.  Magazines advertise lotions and creams that smooth wrinkles and remove dark age spots.  Are you loosing hair?  No problem there are creams and shampoos waiting to help fill in the bald patches.  We are told of make-ups that will minimize flaws in our skin and, if that doesn’t work, there are always injections or plastic surgery.  You can tuck your tummy, enlarge your breasts, lift your chin, transplant your hair, shape your buttocks, enlarge your pecks, vacuum your cellulite, and whiten your teeth…just to name a few of the options available to help us attain “perfection.”  The American Society of Plastic Surgeons reported that there were 8.7 million cosmetic procedures done in the United States during 2003, which represented a 32% increase from the previous year.  The year 2004 saw 9.2 million procedures done in the U.S. alone.

In our search for perfection, we are constantly challenged to buy the right automobile, be endowed with the most gorgeous figure, reside in the most suitable neighborhood, wear stylish clothes, attend the popular clubs, send our children to the best schools, travel to the most popular destinations, decorate our homes in this year’s most glamorous colors, and serve the most gourmet of meals on tastefully decorated tablescapes made from the most modern of serving pieces.  How can we possible live up to that much perfection?  Even the ads created to promote these things are subject to special effects and airbrushing.  We can’t even believe the photographs or our own eyes any more.

As we are constantly bombarded with the message that “perfectionism” should be our ultimate goal, it is no wonder that we transfer this need for perfection into all aspects of our daily lives.  We view ourselves in the same, high-standard, need-to-be-perfect way.  Unless we are perfect we find it difficult to believe we are of value.  To satisfy our need to be loved (in spite of our insecurities) we strive to do whatever we can, at almost any cost, to provide for the needs of those in our lives.  If we could just attain perfection, then others would have to love us.  Right?   Not necessarily!

By giving more and doing more for others we long to secure their love for us.  But, we can never guarantee that someone will value us more if we give all of ourselves.  In our attempts to be loved, we are often finding ourselves attempting to manipulate those around us to love us more because of what we are doing for them, rather than because of who we are as a person.  We want to become indispensable, vital, and important to the objects of our love.  If we please them, they will return the positive affection we so hungrily desire.  We want to be everything to everyone…then everyone will love us.  If it were only this easy!  If we only had that kind of control.

It just doesn’t work that way.  We don’t have power or control over other people and their attitudes or behavior.   The best we can hope for is to live honestly and true to ourselves.  By doing so, we can then be more content and comfortable in our own skin…we will love ourselves more…allowing love to come to our genuine self rather than to some “perfectly” manufactured being.  The more we love ourselves, the more genuine love we will be able to give…unconditionally...in turn, the more genuine will be the love that is returned in our direction.  We will begin to appreciate the fact that we have done the best that we could at any particular point in time…just as everyone else is doing and being the best they can be.

It sounds rather easy, doesn’t it?  What would it be like if we were to live true to ourselves....being comfortable with doing the best we can do today, and accept that as enough?  What a wonderful idea!  But how do we get there?

The first step in accepting ourselves as less than perfect and embracing where we are today, is to practice compassion.  Since early in our childhoods, we have been taught the importance of practicing compassion with others.  It is a fundamental value of Christianity….”Love your neighbor.”  Although that part isn’t always easy, culturally we’ve incorporated this concept into our lives as a truth.  We know that compassion for others is what we should strive for…compassion for others is a concept we can embrace.  The part that is much more difficult for us to adopt as our own is…”compassion for ourself.”

Jesus taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Not, love your neighbor more than yourself, nor love your neighbor at all costs to yourself and your self-worth.  No, Jesus taught the importance of loving our neighbors as ourselves. We should treat all with respect, consideration, and compassion…including ourselvesAll of God’s creatures are to be embraced for being wonderful, just the way they are, right now.  They are all enough, including you and me. 

If we remember that we were all made in God’s image and He knew our names before we were born, we may then begin to appreciate how deserving of compassion we all actually are.  That makes you and me special.  So special in fact, that He died for us…you and me.  We are God’s love and we are here on earth to honor Him.  If we fail to honor the temple with which he has gifted us, it is a failure to honor Him.  He has given us all we have and are.  That includes our big nose, flat chest, wrinkles, sags, bags, and scars…emotional and physical.  That doesn’t make us less than, that makes us perfect in His image, just as we are.

To be perfect means we are just right, today, and that we are good enough.  To be perfect is really just allowing the human condition to exist, even in ourselves, yet still loving ourselves in an unconditional way…generously and compassionately.  To love ourselves as we love our neighbors…to strive to love all, including ourselves, as God loves us…now that is perfection!

To help us develop a compassionate pose when thinking of our self-identity, it is a good idea to be familiar with who we are and why we respond in the ways we do.  This knowledge helps with self-understanding.  Understanding then can open our hearts to self-compassion.   Knowing ourselves is knowing where we’ve been, accepting those parts of our life journey, and moving forward knowing that we are better off today than we were before.  Our journey is a process of learning and growing.  When we open the door to that knowledge, all compassion is possible!