Perfectionism: SADness by a Thousand Cuts

In business, there is a common saying “The perfect is the enemy of the good” (though the saying dates back to the 17th century). It is often muttered as an affirmation that good enough will suffice, that trying to achieve perfection will lead to a project never being completed, or not completed on time. In business, you only have to do enough to beat the competition, you don’t have to be perfect (branding nuances aside). There is also another sense of this phrase, which is, someone may never even start a task, because they don’t feel that they will ever reach the perfection they believe is required.

In brain health recovery, we can apply similar thinking. We don’t have to be perfect: have perfect thoughts, actions, feelings, emotions, etc. We accept ourselves just as we are, we love ourselves, just as we are, we accept others just as they are, and the universe just as it is. We start the journey of recovery knowing that it will not be a straight line, that there will be some days that are better than others, and all our imperfections are part of who we are. We are loved, and completely lovable, despite imperfections. What makes us lovable is not being perfect, but our capacity for kindness, compassion, and love. Expecting perfection in ourselves, and others, is a recipe for SADness (stress, anxiety, and depression).

Attachment is the basis of suffering, and among the pantheon of attachments, perfectionism is a common theme in recovery. If we are attached to perfection, then every overgrown finger nail has to be bitten off, every uncomfortable feeling means we are a bad person and the feeling has to be shoved back down, every drink means I will always be an alcoholic, every mistake is a sign that our recovery is completely off the rails, every thought that was involuntarily thrown into our consciousness, by a brain we do not completely control, means we are crazy people, and our meds are not working. Attachment to perfectionism is an opportunity to find thousands of different problems with ourselves, others, and the universe, all contributing to distorted thinking, critical self-talk, bad self-esteem, a diminished capacity to love ourselves and others, and a hopeless outlook on life. Perfectionism is SADness by a thousand cuts.

Today I will accept imperfection in everything, accepting myself and the universe just as it is, loving myself and life just as it is, celebrating progress, and not sabotaging my recovery or my joy of life, with the expectation of perfection. Today I am good enough, I have enough, and I am right where I need to be.

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