Five years ago I was a mess. I had three young children under 9 who were wonderfully cute, amazing and special, and like most children, were also programmed to push their parents over the edge.
I duly obliged.
It had been coming: a gradual descent into a pit of despair. My own personal pit was decorated with failure and unmet expectations. It was sprinkled with a depression caused by not being the kind of mum I had always imagined I would be. You know the one – the light-hearted, bubbly mum who plays games, always laughs, bakes cakes, is in control of the shopping, cooking, laundry, school letters, bills, gardening, all the while running a successful business or career and being the model of emotional intelligence, kindness, patience and courage. She also looks amazing and has the best sex on the planet with the husband she still fancies the pants off. You know her very well don’t you? She’s in everyone’s expectations, all over the media and worst of all, in our own minds.
It seems that during the previous years, unbeknownst to me, the dark, silent tentacles of Perfectionist Mum had ensnared me completely and dragged me down deep. The more I struggled to be free of this constant sense of failure the further I seemed to fall. The more I strived, the ‘less perfect’ I became. It all sounds dramatic now, but it felt humiliating and dangerous at the time, and I couldn’t get myself out of it. I didn’t realise then, that the expectation of perfection I had had for so long was impossible to achieve. All I could focus on was how I had messed up again, and again, and again, and I couldn’t understand how it could happen to an intelligent woman like me who was trying so hard!
So one night 5 years ago during a fairly standard argument my oldest child shouted at me; ‘Mum – you just expect me to be perfect all the time! I can’t be perfect!
It was as if he had thrown a bucket of water over me. I woke up. In a second he had shown me the truth, bright, ugly, and finally, finally visible to my blind and deluded mind. I immediately understood that my constant expectation of perfection was not only damaging me, but a million times worse – it was damaging my children.
It was the changing point in my life, and since then I have continuously learnt about the toxic condition of perfectionism, read many, many positive psychology, mindfulness and self-development books, watched hundreds of TEDTalks and attended courses and workshops. I have had coaching, CBT and therapy and I have experimented with different ideas, practices and habits and have found what works and what doesn’t work.
All this learning and exploration has made me so much more aware, mindful and grateful. It’s made a huge difference and I’m a much calmer, happier person. I’m also a better mum. However, I have still been striving for a certain something. Peace, or Success, or Happiness, whatever they are. There has still been a sense of something missing, or lacking in my life or me.
So I am still learning.
Finally though, I am able and willing to listen to the real inner voice inside me. Not my scared and vulnerable ego which is driving all the relentless striving, but the strong, solid wisdom within me which knows that I am amazing and whole.
I still have my striving ego, desparate to protect and prove itself, but at least now I have another side to hear too.
My own voice.