Perfectionism

96 QUESTION: Isn’t this kind of joyful acceptance of lack of perfection conducive to a loss of ambition for further development?

ANSWER: Not at all. I spoke about this, I believe, quite extensively in this lecture [Lecture #96 Questions and Answers and Additional Comments on Laziness as Symptom of Self-Alienation]. When you reread it, you will understand. Let me only repeat: distinguish between perfection and growing. If you wish to grow, and if you realize that you can only grow a step at a time – while still being far away from perfection – you cannot stagnate.

Acceptance of imperfection does not mean the wish to remain static. It means only that you know that you never become perfect in this life, but wish with all your heart to grow and change wherever it is possible. This is a decided difference.

As I said, this is the only way you can grow. However, being perfectionistic is such a strain, leads to such discouragement and rigidity and pretense, that growth becomes impossible. You already know this to some extent. Wherever you have found your great idealized self-image, with all its tyrannical demands upon you, with all the shoulds and musts, you can now see that where this image ruled you is exactly where you have not grown.

You have only grown where your idealized self did not govern you. Perfectionism makes for pretense and rigidity – and this excludes growth and development, as well as change. Only when you can be relaxed about your imperfections and do not need to pretend in order to hide them, only then do you grow, only then is the soil fertile for growth.

 

97 QUESTION: To differentiate between goal-direction and compulsion, would you explain how the latter falls into the circle of pride, self-will, and fear?

ANSWER: Where there is perfectionism, which prohibits growth rather than encourages it, all three are present: pride, self-will, and fear. There is the pride of wanting and needing to be perfect. And since a part of you knows that you are not perfect, you pretend. Again, I emphasize – this does not concern the whole of you.

There may be many sides to your being where you are quite relaxed and free, and do not pretend. But there are other areas in which, emotionally if not intellectually, you feel you cannot admit certain things. What may appear an imperfection to you may not appear as such to another person, and vice versa.

You may be ashamed of not always winning in certain areas of life, and therefore pretend that you don’t care, while you do not pretend in others. This pretense is not a crass outer falsification, but a much more subtle inner strain. Rejection or failure may subjectively constitute imperfection of which you are ashamed – and where there is such shame, there must be pretense. All this implies a fierce pride.

The self-will says, “I have to be perfect already.” Since one knows quite well that this is not true, one tries to adhere at least to a superficial perfection. Again, this is pretense. Both pride and self-will lead to pretense. Or, to put it in other words, they lead away from truth.

All this is so subtle that it is almost impossible to understand if you do not live this Pathwork and have not come across areas of your emotions that used to be hidden from sight and awareness. If you do not make it your goal to uncover them, and are not involved in this process of self-finding, these will merely be words which do not mean very much. Or if they do, they mean something at the moment, but will be forgotten in no time. This even happens to you who work on this Path.

The fear must exist in a double way. On the one hand, it exists because you fear that “If I am not perfect, I will be unhappy, or disapproved of, or not loved.” Or, the fear is, “If the other person is imperfect, he or she will prohibit my happiness.” You try to push this constant fear away by self-will and by the pride of pretense.

Then there is the second fear, which is a particularly poisonous one, the fear of exposure that you are not as perfect as you think you should be, that your pretense may be shown up. In order to guard against exposure, you invest valuable energies and soul forces into the superstructure, which impoverishes your life, your capacity to experience real feelings, and necessitates repression and self-deception.

 

97 QUESTION: It is a very subtle thing I want to ask and it is very hard to explain. I went through a long time of deep depression and then I found that I had failed in everything I wanted. After I realized that, and also what you were talking about – my complex of perfectionism – I finally accepted my mistakes. It took me a long time, but anyway I now faced my failure and was at first very unhappy about it. Some days later I accepted the failures, the mistakes and everything. I felt a wonderful revelation and relief. This kept on, somehow, but I don’t know how. Sometimes I have the feeling my heart is still crying about all I’ve lost. And then I don’t know whether I cover it up, or whether it is real or not.

ANSWER: Yes, you have made an important step forward, but you have not continued. You have remained there and have not seen what follows. I hope you will see it, because even if I tell you, as you know from previous experience, this will not help very much if you do not discover it for yourself. However, I will tell you.

You see, the failures are exaggerated because you tend very much toward building up emotions out of all proportion. It would be important for you to investigate this and become aware that this is so, as well as why it is so. For there is a great exaggeration about such complete failure of everything you wanted. There are things you did want and which you attained, so that you are not a failure there. You see only what you wanted and did not get, and forget that you also wanted what you now have.

But there is also something else responsible for your present uncertainty. Investigate the motivations, both healthy and unhealthy, and ask yourself why you desired what you failed in. Superficially this may seem obvious, yet it is not that simple. You will find a curious mixture of the healthy and unhealthy. You will find that, partly, your motivations in wanting something that in itself was perfectly all right were governed by superimposed, immature reasons, crutches, rather than the reality of your own being.

On the other hand, you will find that the healthy motivations you did not allow to function were put aside due to your perfectionism. You prohibited your own creative unfoldment just because of your perfectionism, so that both the healthy and the unhealthy motivations contributed to the unfulfillment, or the failure. You chose the goal out of partly unhealthy motives, and you prohibited yourself from reaching the goal entirely out of unhealthy motives. This may appear like a paradox, but do you follow what I mean?

QUESTIONER: A hundred percent! It is so right!

ANSWER: Now, if you investigate and analyze that fully, you will come across a new insight, finding, contrary to your present emotions, that it is never too late. The same factors, if transposed into healthy currents, can still give you fulfillment, perhaps not exactly in the same way, but not any less. You know that now, in your intellect, but emotionally you cannot accept it. You will not be able to accept it until and unless you completely understand what I am indicating here.

 

QA114 QUESTION: In connection with the problem of doubting one’s ability, and also in a way, any kind of spiritual truth, it occurred to me that I have a very strong tendency of idealization, of trying to only accept what is absolutely perfect. Or at least trying to devote myself to something I recognize to be a very high ideal. Or else I reject everything that doesn’t fit into that ideal. And I feel there is a connection somehow between the avoidance of doubt and this tendency to idealize, but I can’t quite see it. Maybe you could elaborate on it?

ANSWER: Yes. The connection is this way. The child often feels that demands being made on him are harsh, unpleasurable, or even unjust. For the child, it would seem more bearable if the grown-up world it has to obey comes from omnipotent, perfect people.

It is somehow easier to accept perfect grown-up authority and a harsh, unpleasurable, or unjust world than to admit the grown-up world is fallible itself. This would seem to rob the child of every possible security. In other words, if a father or a mother extract painful and frustrating demands, and if the child can say, “Well, but this is the world. This is the perfect world. If I can fulfill these demands, then I’ll be perfectly happy, even though I now suffer from these demands and having to obey these demands – and even if I am hurt by the rejection or the seeming injustice or whatever.” Of course these thoughts are not clear-cut, precise thoughts; these are vague feelings.

The child feels more secure in knowing the parent is unquestionably right and there is a high purpose in the hurt and the injustice. And the child will feel – erroneously so, but nevertheless this is the way it appears – it seems much harder to accept that the world is not so harsh, that things are much more flexible, but the parents are fallible. Then it would have nothing to lean on.

Now, although this may to a certain extent, be correct as far as the child is concerned, it is incorrect for an adult. The adult who carries along with him these erroneous conceptions unnecessarily creates a tremendous hardship for himself. Because he sees the world a much crueler thing than it really is. But at the same time he goes on demanding perfection of his authority and of himself. It would be much easier to relinquish this perfection and accept the fact that perfection is not necessary. Then life will become a much more benign business. Do you see the link here?

QUESTION: Yes, I think it’s excellent. I can see it quite well. In other words, the real difficulty comes for an adult to accept, at least for a moment, that he has to give up trusting in a perfect authority and therefore this is a kind of a leading into an abyss. And by doing that, then the picture changes.

ANSWER: Right. Right. Now let us take a little example to make the point even clearer. Let us say a child has a parent who is, shall we say, very aggressive, very choleric even, and cruel at times. Now for the child to say to himself “My father is cruel” is an absolute impossibility, because how can he entrust his safety, how can he be protected and want the love of someone whom the child admits has a cruel streak. He cannot do it.

Therefore, he rather says to himself, “The parent is only cruel because I am no good. If I would be good, the parent would be a perfect, loving individual.” It seems for the child easier to bear to belittle himself rather than admit that the absolutely necessary authority has a fault; and therefore he goes on and he grows with the conviction – which he even clutches on; it is almost a necessity for him to believe – “I am no good.”

He cannot relinquish and simply be clear that “Well, my parent had a fault. He has a cruel streak for whatever reason I do not know. He also has his good qualities; he also has his kindness. But this he has, and his cruelty has nothing to do with my value, with my worth, with my goodness or lack of goodness. He just is that way, that at certain times, certain moods come up and he explodes.” This he cannot admit to himself.

But for the adult, if this has always been an unconscious process, he carries on this by-then obsolete attitude. For he would no longer need to make himself bad in order to trust in the perfection of the idealized authority. He could admit there is no such perfection. He could see he need not reject himself in order to justify the imperfection of the authority he needs.

 

QA137 QUESTION: I’d like to know what my greatest blockage to forward movement in my life is?

ANSWER: The greatest blockage deep inside is a fear of not being the way you think you should be and the way you want to be. This I would say is a fundamental blockage that creates all sorts of other blockages that are indirect results. I do not know whether you are at all aware of this, but it is a very, very strong factor.

The basic fear is, “I ought to be this way and it is inconceivable and unacceptable not to be that way.” Now, you see the way you allow for is not narrow. I might say, up to a certain degree you are not too perfectionistic with yourself. You lend yourself a certain leeway. But there’s a limit. There are certain aspects in you that do not fit into the picture of you, and this is where a wall and a block exists.

You might be perfectly self-accepting – also as far as imperfections are concerned – in certain areas, so I do not say that you demand absolute perfection of yourself. That would not be quite accurate to say. But it is sometimes not even imperfection you fear. It might even be something completely unrelated with imperfection. Perhaps a way of being, perhaps it is more a question of being convinced you are one kind of personality while your natural, spontaneous self is not better not worse, but just a little bit different. Does that ring a bell to you?

QUESTION: I’m not quite sure.

ANSWER: Well, maybe you will find it. Maybe some of your friends may feel it more, because other people also can, in their detachment, often perceive more, and you can discuss that perhaps. But I would say this is a fundamental block.

 

QA192 QUESTION: This past week, I have been very overwhelmed by many, many irrational feelings and thoughts – feelings that I should be above reproach, impeachable. On one level I know it’s a completely irrational feeling; on the other hand, everything I do in response to that is to be more unimpeachable, more perfect. {Yes} I find a real block in allowing my wife to come out with her feelings, both rational and irrational; I go into withdrawal, a defensiveness, and an inability to deal with her. Somehow my need is to be above reproach. I can’t deal with it. Could you shed some light on this?

ANSWER: Yes. Now, in the first place, what you say here is of immense importance and, of course, applies to every single human being without exception. The only difference is that the majority of human beings are still hiding from themselves this tremendous vulnerability and this imagined need “I must be perfect; I must not be reproached; I must not have any faults; I must not have any weaknesses,” etcetera.

This danger of not being perfect is very deep-rooted. Going back in this particular life, it is, of course, very easy to connect with the fact that most parents either explicitly or implicitly convey the impression to a child that it is not lovable unless it is right and perfect. This may be expressed by certain things a parent may say, or the parent may really be quite unaware of what he’s doing. However that may be, the child grows up with this idea.

Actually, the threat of being imperfect goes much deeper than that and has a much more vital origin than this fact that is traceable to this life. The soul actually remembers that imperfection creates unhappiness. Now, as long as the soul is incarnated in the body, this knowledge is just as obviously on the surface, because you can see it.

When you are in a negative state, you are never happy. But most human beings manage to convince themselves their unhappiness is not a result of their own state; it is a result of someone else’s doing. As long as they live in that illusion, they do not face their own cause of unhappiness.

So then therefore, the need to be perfect is a misunderstanding; it is a misinterpreted message of the deepest spiritual self that says, “Do not fail, for your failure for your negativities renders you unhappy, puts you in a very unhappy state, and even in an unhappy world, in an unhappy surrounding,” which is true in this world as well as in another world.

So there is a threat there. “I must not be wrong; I must not be bad, for if I am bad, I will be unhappy so I will deny this fact.” This is the origin.

But of course, it is a very destructive way to react. In reality, you are already in a much more elevated state when you can accept your faultiness, your limitation, even the evil in you. The moment you can own up to it, the moment you can say, “Yes, this is me also; it is not only that but that is also in me,” you are already liberated to a vast degree.

I would say to you, my friend, the fact that you have arrived at this juncture is in itself tremendous progress, for you are now really battling with and confronting this particular threshold I describe here. And it is in your power to state “my need to be perfect is an unrealistic need; I do not really need that. I do not need it because it is not true. I am not perfect. I am human, and as a human being I incorporate the best but also the low qualities. And I want to get to know these low qualities without fear and without diminishing myself.”

The moment you can approach yourself in that way, you become strong; you become truly a force field of spiritual energies, which is not the case to the degree you need the illusion and you cultivate the false need of being perfect. Because, if you have to appear perfect without being perfect, you’re living falsely. You’re living on what others think of you and therefore what you expect from others, which is a whole self-alienating process.

The only way you can truly be established within your own innermost center of your own being is by being what you really are. If that is imperfect now to some degrees, that is what it is. And it is beautiful if you can own up to it.

If you have only one-hundredth of imperfection that you deny, then it is ugly. If you have a thousand times more imperfection, but you take these with this spirit and this attitude, it is beautiful, because those imperfections already cease to breed negative energy. They only breed negative energy when you deny them. This is a big step in any human being’s development – when he can totally commit himself to the truth that is within him, for better or for worse.

QUESTION: It’s very clear to me, and I’m very grateful for the answer just given and I understand the approach you mentioned of trying to be realistic; I understand that. However, when this paralysis really happens, I find myself absolutely trapped. It’s almost as if I don’t want to see; I don’t want to hear; I don’t want to smell. I want to deaden all of my senses.

ANSWER: Yes. What happens here is, in the first place, it is necessary that you understand why this is so. The paralysis, the deadening process is a result of you somewhere inside saying, “Oh, no, I must not; I must not recognize; I must not let out; I must not admit; I must not be what I may still be.” And this is what creates the paralysis.

This kind of paralysis is always there. It may manifest in a thousand different ways with every human being in a different way and even with the same human being in different ways at different periods. With one it may paralyze the thinking process, with another the feeling process, with another the will process, with another the action process, still with another the capacity to perceive and to connect and to be, and with the many others in many ways simultaneously or alternately.

Whatever the paralysis is, it must be there when this inner voice manifests, without being recognized. So my advice in such a state – and I speak to many here, not only to you, of course – is when you reach this state, realize or say, “Yes, I am paralyzed or I am tired or I am without energy or I do not find the stamina,” or whatever it may be.

“It may be because I am frightened to look at what is. I do not want it to be because it is silly, it is stupid. I cannot deny what is. I may deny it, but that will not alter the fact. So, what is, is, and I want to see it. And I know that deep within me are forces and powers who will help me to see the truth and understand the truth without exaggeration. Whatever threat I experience is an error, because I cannot be threatened by the truth that is in me anyway. I will not pay allegiance to this error of my threat. So I want these highest powers in me to open me up to the truth.”

Then when it does not happen immediately, do not worry. Just wait! But test yourself how much you really mean it. If you really mean it, you will get an answer. And the answer will be beautiful and liberating. You will see the truth that you have most feared. Only you will then see there was nothing to fear and you come out more shiny, more beautiful as a spirit than ever before – more clear and more cleansed and more genuinely loving and liking and respecting yourself. This is the result.

The answer of your innermost spiritual being will come when you really want it, and whether or not you really want it is something only you can determine. This is my advice.

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