I usually spend little time worrying about fitting in with the expectations of others and prefer to do things my own way. It seemed to me that conformity was for those who were busy trying to perfectly match themselves up to the rest of the world and there was no place in that for me. I now understand that individuality requires its own precise energy, which is where perfectionism snuck up on me.
When we become the primary caregiver for an adult loved one, there are so many combinations of issues to mange that there is no single path one is to follow. Most people bounce around through this river of change, making mistakes and eventually eliminating the awkward edges of mishaps that happen along the way. Trips to the emergency room and emotional outbursts are hard on everyone involved, so caregivers tend to try to narrow their world into their own perfect flow of function.
This desire to perfect every action around us in order to stop getting emotionally bumped and bruised is very normal, but not necessarily healthy for the relationships involved in caregiving. Accepting the way we feel through those rough patches while allowing imperfection is all part of the journey. I personally have a hard time when I can’t please every older adult, family member, employee and agency that I’m involved with.
The challenge with this type of perfectionism is that I can get frustrated toward myself and those working with me if things end up even slightly uncomfortable for those we are trying to help. I have seen this same desire in many caregivers as they interact with their loved one and discuss their needs with us. The perception of being responsible for making the other person’s life experience as perfect as possible is a burden that many of us must let go of.
I recently saw a movie in which the main character said something about not wanting to be considered perfect because that leaves no room to grow. That really struck a cord with my newly self-aware self. Being confident in ourselves and our own actions is far more important than getting it right every time, and is imperative to standing tall in our beliefs. We must honor and build upon the inner voice the truly believes in what we stand for through both the smooth days and the rough patches.
Ideas of perfection can also be pushed on us by those around us. I believe it is critical to set clear boundaries with those in our lives who use intimidation and criticism to try to get us to bend in their direction. These strategies distract from what we value in our relationships and leave us feeling like a disappointment, even when we know we didn’t do anything wrong. This tactic does not create authentic relationships, as we only truly have someone in our corner if they have arrived there out of mutual respect and understanding.
In speaking with a caregiver who had finally had enough of her mother-in-law’s criticism and found inner strength as both an individual and a wife, I got the mental image of her taking the bull by the horns and pushing back against both internal and external pressure to excel at caregiving. Holding firm to the boundaries of how we will allow ourselves to be treated will help us all take the power back. So even if you are like me, and create your own bull’s worth of pressure on yourself, please consider that it is all in our own mind and the only things we can do is give it our very best, every day, and honor ourselves and those around us for showing up.
Send column topic requests to Karyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.