Perfectionism …………… a smokescreen for sadness

August 21, 2010

Meeting with so many people, perfectionism is something that I come across so much, it can be so crippling and disruptive in one’s life, I know because I struggled with this too.   I read this letter from Clarissa Pinkola Estes a few days ago on facebook, and thought I would like to share it with you all here.  She manages to describe the feelings and the background to these insidious feelings so well.

The mask- oils. oil pastels, and layered digitally

Dear Brave Souls: Just some reflections about a kind of perfectionism that insists on ‘highest standards from self and others.”If one carries this attitude, one can be sure one fails daily. One starts one’s day by secretly saying ‘Today I, the grand perfectionist, will fail in many ways, for I shall not be able to be perfected in each thing I do, say, enact.’ Not today. Not on any day.

Looking at perfectionism from that angle, it appears a wicked curse has been placed on a person… that is that they are supposed to sabotage their contentment and peace each day. They are spellbound to act against the wisdom and logic of their own souls.

I’ve heard all the reasonings from those who call themselves with a little too much pride, seeming, perfectionists. Sometimes it sounds as though the person is actually somehow proud of this, even though the dimmest observer can see their chosen perfectionism is not only making them miserable… it is often making others who care about them, miserable too.

Perfectionism is demanding. And the seeming pride in perfectionism is a smoke screed for sadness. Oddly, in one who has developed vast perfectionism ranting at self and sometimes at others, what is least developed is mercy. Mercy for oneself, and mercy for others. And that is where the sadness comes from, the sorrow that one walks this world without mercy from within first and foremost.

There is a punitive aspect to spellbound perfectionism, as though punishing or criticizing or condemning self and others is somehow alright, to be expected, and that one can have gallows humor about it all. It isnt alright. It is cruel. Cruel foremost to oneself. And cruel to others. And cruel because it destroys relationships with decent people. Again, the spell carries a curse that there shall be no resting place, no contentment.

There are other nuances to perfectionism, such as strong resistance to surrender it… which is our clue to that not only has an evil curse been put on the child spirit of this person, saying they will never and ought never accept themselves or others, and that others ought not accept them either, for they are so defective…

but also that somehow the perfectionism is armor… a false armor to be certain, for perfectionists’ hearts can be broke, they can have life befall them, lose their jobs, be bereft, even though driving toward perfectionism with all the drive possible.

So, holding to such perfectionism is not what it appears to be on the surface, an earnest striving to do all things perfectly, but rather perfectionism appears often to be striving not to be seen, critiqued harshly, punished, exiled… ah then, we have clues to the original curse and can spell break it.

If perfectionism is in some large part a plea to ‘let me live, please allow me to take up space on this earth, please let it be alright that I am alive, please do not find me unworthy of life, please have mercy on me and I will promise then if you will let me live… then I will grovel in perfectionism and I know this means I will live cursed, failing each day to be perfect, up to your standards, all of the rest of my days… but I will forfeit myself if only you will please not leave me, please do not harm my spirit. Please let me live.”

In this sense, perfectionism is an armor that looks like Swiss cheese. It protects nothing in the end. And more so, beacsuse the abusing parent has spellbound an innocent child this way, they have also bound them in an even more sinister way to keep trying to please the cruel parent, keep thinking if they only this or that, the parent will love them unconditionally, that the parent will at last, come back to them and be kind and be sheltered, wise and good.

This is sometimes called father hunger or mother hunger, hping that by being good, this will turn the parent good. But even that, the father/ mother hunger is set into place by the brute parent, who uses that hunger to continue to berate the child, not grown, that they are not enough to receive this fabulous love, that they never will be.

What we call father/mother hunger when it is aimed at the ill or deficit parent over and over again, is actually a straw man set up by the prevarivating parent so the child will never do to them what they did to the child: abandon them.

When this spell is broken, the adult child realizes that real and true mother-father hunger is not for the ill parent. It is for ANYONE who will be decent, good, merciful, loving, listening, wise with them.

This is an important differentiation: The child who is free of the curse of the father or mother who doesnt want them but doesnt want anyone else to have them either, will then choose strong good people as parents of the soul and heart. They will find the true parents they belong to. They will no longer be once-born and twice cursed. They will be twice born and free to live new life.

But looking back over many an adult child’s life who thinks they are ‘not good enough’ and thereby compensate that wound with the flimsy armor of perfectionism…. more so, we know, from the tone and timbre of the underlying plea to the abandoning parent, that being spellbound into perfectionism occurred in the perfectionistic person, likely as very young dependent child who was given message after message that they were a big inconvenience, that the child could not be as no child can be, ‘the perfect child,’ meaning the fully controlled child by another…

and that therefore, for being a mere child, a beautiful, precious child, they were called out, shamed, humiliated …and told ‘be perfect or else daddy/ mommie wont love you, mommie or daddy will leave you’…. mysteriously or remaining in full sight but empty hearted toward the child.

Nothing terrifies and freezes a child’s heart more than knowing when they are in such need and so vulnerable as tiny children, that the rock of their life, will not be there for them… and that the parent blames the child for the parent’s own cruel faithlessness toward their own needful child.

This, if so, is terrorizing a child. There is no deeper cut to a child than to sever their security that no matter what, no matter WHAT, they will be loved.

The way back to true home, is this. Rout all old parental assault from your mind. No one has a right to live in your head saying these deleterious things to your child spirit day in and day out. Secondly, go make some minor errors on purpose. This also is freeing, literally bashing back at the parental voices in one’s head that do not belong there. Take a friend to be witness to your mistakes. Make them small and harmless. You may find these humorous, for you are breaking a law you never agreed to abide by. Good for you. Go for it.

You see that the curse cannot hold especially when you can laugh at it. Thirdly understand you are an adult now, not a poor little dependent child who truly would die without their parent’s protection. Now you take care of yourself well and in ways you were not taken care of then. This is what is called self-care, self-comforting, and also this is called growing the good mother within.

Though it may have taken only minutes or days and months to harm a child so deeply that it would take the child years to find their way out of the spell and back into true life, it is every soul’s birthright to bulldoze the house of torment in their own minds and to build there a warm cottage in which live two kindly souls who are ever happy to see you.

So much decontaminating of the mind is an act of prayer, mercy and goodness, pointedly practicing changing the radio station from all screed and no news, to the kind and fierce wisdom station.

This is within everyone’s reach. The spell is over when you say it is over. No one has a right to own another human being, not even psychologically and certainly not spiritually.

You were born free. Take it back. Take it all back. It is fine that you take up plenty of space on planet earth. Despite addled nay-sayers to the contrary, it always has been so that you were meant to be…

I send love,
dr.e
excerpt from Warming the Stone Child, book ©c.p.estés, Chapter: Ways to Know You Are Healed Well Enough.

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One Response to “Perfectionism …………… a smokescreen for sadness”


  1. […] I have worked with many people who are crippled by this, unable to sometimes  even make any steps forward because of the immense anxiety.   Often this control comes of out of a real sense of sadness within, it cannot be revealed at any cost so the person controls their external environment to such a degree that absolutely everything around them has to be perfect. I too have this incidious trait, it can be so cruel, I have battled with this a long time, its a lot easier now I have learnt to let go a little and life has become somewhat less anxious but the creative process can sometimes be a nightmare.  Dr Estes wrote a letter on facebook about perfectionsism,  she explains it so well, I have posted it on my other blog, click here […]


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