Perfectionism as fantasy

Every time I sat down at the piano I wanted to write ‘Songbird’. Perfectionism does not work, for adults. The bright child can be perfect, sometimes: you can get 100% on that maths or grammar test, if you are intelligent, focused on it, and apply yourself. You get straight As on your report card, as if success is quantifiable and you have achieved it.

The focus is not yours. It has some value, as school success leads to good university courses, and a good degree can start on a good job, yet it is based on luck and birth, as comprehension tests reflect middle class values and what the middle classes speak of at home. (“Middle class” is another term which means different things in UK and US.) Many fail: my friend failed the 11+, then got a PhD. The reward is external. You will win praise for achieving others’ goals. You crave the praise, because it is a sign of acceptance you do not get otherwise. Some may find maths beautiful, but you learn it for pats on the head.

In work, perfectionism is possible for very few. It was the root of my procrastination. I would not do a task, because I imagined it perfect, achieving what I wanted to achieve, and then judged my actual performance as less, rather than seeing that what I could produce with the tools available was the best I could manage, and just doing it. So I lost my job.

Perfectionism is a fantasy, unrelated to what is possible. Rather than wanting a result linked to the actual work, I wanted to feel good about myself. Ashamed of who I am, I could only feel good about what I achieved, and when that seemed impossible I gave up. With a fantasy of an ideal self, focused on goals I was taught to value and consistent in the character I was taught was good, I could not accept the real, messy human being I was.

If you do something because you ought to, the parent who pats your head no longer exists, so you get nothing from it. What do you want? You, yourself, from your own desires and not others’. I do not clean my teeth because of the rules, it is just what everyone should do, but because it makes my mouth feel better. In listless depression, I might not do that, because it is so little improvement of such a bleak-seeming situation.

That musician who had great success stopped making music, even for herself. She was not good enough. Better to be the band that achieved fame, and then fell out of the charts but continued touring, in smaller and smaller venues. How much Love do you need from an audience? If it must always be more, you will fail. How much can you appreciate the beauty of the music simply for itself? I have not been playing the piano, out of perfectionism, an idea of something more than is possible. What is possible?

This human being pursues its desires where it sees possibilities. The desires and the perception are partly unconscious, and partly in conflict with conscious ideas. Having to make myself acceptable when I was never simply accepted, wanting that before any other want, made the burden of my tasks too great, so that I felt incapable, and gave up. That increased my shame.

Ideally I want An Answer at the end of this, but it is a blog post, a work in progress. I still face the question What do you want? In my depressed state, my answer is “Nothing that I feel I might achieve”.

Everyday Hero

I suffer because I am wrong and bad, so need to change. I need to change that perception, which is wrong and bad, as I suffer because of it. Rather than change it, turn it inside out. How is it true? Only self-valuing will give me the courage to face the world more.

The stories I tell myself are of facing odds and failing: never getting what I wanted, never being good enough. I have faced shitstorms, and, well, collapsed before them. I have one or two stories about winning against great odds. The respondent wanted to lodge a defence to the employment tribunal claim late. Is that in the interests of justice? Almost always, the answer will be yes. I thought of just supporting the motion so I did not have to take a day out of the office, but that would have seemed weak; so I looked at the case the day before and found the arguments against it. I won.

The stories I remember are similarly emotionally intense. It was really hard and I overcame. It was really hard and I failed- but I should not have failed and can see, with hindsight, what might have improved my chances. I am wrong and bad, compared to the hero I desire to be, the centre of the Universe all-conquering master of all. That was my survival mechanism, creating the Perfect Hero. I would be the Perfect Hero, and then I would be safe. Except it never worked. I knew I was Worthless, inadequate, useless and of no account. I saw I had those two self-images, centre of the Universe and worthless, and had the idea the truth was somewhere in between. I said “I am a human being”, but the two self-images are hard to replace. It takes a lot of repeating, to take down and replace a defence mechanism clutched at in babyhood.

Not, “I am wrong and bad” but I am imperfect– I don’t see everything to do with a situation immediately, but work things out over time, and sometimes too late for what I wanted to achieve. Often I don’t have the power to make the decisions, even though I know what is right. I respond in my idiosyncratic way, which is different from how others might. I make mistakes.

Possibly I should get my diaries out and consider the stories I have forgotten, the everyday proceeding with tasks, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, seeing how I actually behave- imperfectly but well enough. Like a human. I could see the consequences for me: most of the time it is bearable. Even now, as Larkin predicted, I have not actually starved. Of course people do starve alone, like that friend of Josie’s who died in her flat and lay there undiscovered for weeks until someone complained about the smell, and someone else broke the door down- but such cases are sufficiently rare not to worry too much about them. We’re all going to die eventually.

The perfect me too

When Jesus said, Be perfect, therefore, as God who birthed you is perfect, he meant God just is. Just be you.

One could read the line with bits of St Paul saying salvation is impossible without God; but for me it means we are made good- enough.

Bronzino, detail from an altarpiece 1

I wrote yesterday’s post this morning. I am always tired after such emotional wrestling. I look at the blue sky ruefully through the window: I am allowed just to rest.

I think you are extremely brave, she wrote, and she is intelligent, perceptive, truthful. Accept it. I am intelligent, perceptive, truthful too.

On the inclusive language, I find God the Parent gauche, God the Mother imitative, so I thought, go the whole way with a visceral image. I don’t want to bore, I want to shock- and delight those open to it.

I am allowed to recover like this. I have time, and I am using it well.

Tired. Just, tired. Walk? Telly? Read? Doze? Write another recognition of my good qualities- but, I have done that before. What I know I need not assert, now. So here is Quaker philosopher John Macmurray writing in the Scottish Journal of Theology 1956. Someone shared it on facebook and I liked it.

Christianity finds [people] at enmity with one another and concludes that which is required is a reconciliation. It thinks in terms of regeneration, of the salvation of the world, of the transformation of human motives. The natural state of [humanity] is one of fellowship in love and trust; if that is not [the] actual state then something has gone wrong which ought to be put right. That is the work of God, Christ and Christian.

“There is nothing that can be believed that is not an image of the truth.” Blake: “perfection” and perfection. We are perfect. Breathe it in.

Bronzino, detail from an altarpiece 2

Wine and anger wine helped me find my anger.

I am angry at my father, and usually I would just suppress it. I woke at 1.30am, in misery at his loss, and woke at nine feeling miserable, lacking in energy, and thinking that I should not drink wine at all. It is important for me to Be Positive. How can I help my father, now? I felt anger at his lack of judgment, and in that found my own miserliness.

Fortunately, I am at Will’s house. I need held, while I scream and weep. Screaming is negotiable- dratted terraced houses- and I could control it even if it is good to let it out. I talk of the situation, and Will notices how I get continually distracted. That thing on his wall- yes, that is beautiful. That thing on the window is beautiful too. The Apple corp symbol- it is all circles, you know, the bite is a true arc, the apple is such a rich symbol from Adam on-

I find things to distract myself, ideally pretty things I can delight in. And Will notices I go still, and stop breathing. This is the small child’s reaction, feeling anger and needing to suppress it, and be perfectly still. Perhaps I could find a better way to be, as an adult. feels good, after. I have said it, and been heard. I feel present in my body, and powerful: open body language, feet slightly apart and arms loosely by my side. This is all so difficult- whether this is “masculine” or “feminine” is a question for my agonising- and I am getting there, now. We talk more generally: Will learned a Gurdjieff technique of Presence, naming to ourselves what we notice in the moment. I remember the bird- one eye staring at the ground, looking for the sign of worms to eat, and one eye aware of as much of the world around as possible. For me, the awareness of the World seems the spiritual experience, for it is the less common one- a balance between focus and wide-awareness might be a step further.

Thinking of transference. Something angers me which I cannot express, and then I am reminded of it and my old anger comes out at the new stimulus- possibly an anger completely out of proportion. And of wine- it is a risky way of finding anger, out of control, but if my inhibitions are too strong I have to get round them somehow. It is a good job I do not drink to escape.

At the course, we milled, and said to the person I face, one of these three:
I feel that I can trust you
-I am not sure whether I can trust you
-I do not feel that I can trust you

When I see someone embarrassed, who says “I feel that I can trust you”, it seems, out of a desire to placate, I feel I cannot trust. I would rather tell the truth, perhaps slightly negatively, and worry about others’ feelings later. And it is their stuff, not mine, if they call me trustworthy or untrustworthy. I know I can be trusted to do my best, even if not to be “perfect”.

Justifications are unnecessary.
I express myself female because I am transsexual.
I want to practise Reiki because I can channel healing energy, or Qi.

Well. I want to practise Reiki because it is a wonderful placebo, and I have the showmanship to carry it off. If you can fake sincerity, you have got it made. I express myself female because I am a transvestite pervert who has lost all sense of proportion. Or something.

I am fairly sure that the theory of autogynephilia is trivial. Yes, we get turned on by the thought of us female. No, this does not cause us to transition: if it did, “gender dysphoria” could have no meaning.

Some think there is that causal link, though I think the cause is likely to be the other way round. What do I do with contrary evidence?
-Blot it out of consciousness, ignore it, deny it, pretend it is not there, collapse weeping thinking of it occasionally-

Acknowledge it. It exists. It will not make me change my actions. It does not affect my situation: few cissexual folk care. What matters is my reaction to it. Is it a threat? Only if I find it so.

I have felt my hands grow warm, and I have felt warmth seemingly communicated from another’s hands, without touching. Others have valued my attention. And I want that to be the reason why I perform healing: I want it to connect to the reality of the other person.

I spoke to a man who has given several types of Healing over thirty years, and said it seems it’s just placebo. He said, “Yes, that’s about the size of it”. That shocked me. I should have asked straight out, “How do you let yourself do it, if that is all it is?” He told me of spending time with Shiatsu practitioners, and how lovely that was.

What I want is a reason for doing this. My inner rationalist should sense my hands growing warm, sense heat or coolness as I pass my right hand over someone, and use inductive reasoning to connect that to a measurable positive result for the other. It does not work that way.

Relax. It is alright. What I have instead is that I want to do this, that I like to do it, and that other people seem to like it too. It is not this amazing mystic calling, which I cannot follow without perfect certainty that it is right; it is a thing I can do if I want to. And- placebo is a powerful effect.

Treacle mines, south of Swanston, had a railway station, a mill and a treacle mine. There was a great deal of folklore around the treacle mine, as the histories of Darwent in the libraries show. With only mill and the railway station in Darwent, there wasn’t much other history.

The miners could not use pickaxes, because they stuck in the treacle. Instead they used pitchforks, which they twisted round and round to get a nice blob of treacle. Then they had to get the treacle off the pitchfork, by wiping it on their wives’ hair.

The mine shafts had to run horizontally into the hills. If they sloped downwards, the treacle would flow down the shaft and block it. The pit owners, an ungenerous, grasping lot, wanted to slope the shafts upwards so the treacle would flow out without the need for miners, but the miners managed to thwart this by-

All this is too much for Richard, who changes the subject.

We cannot start our business meeting yet, so I chat to the Christian Spiritualist who has rented the downstairs room. He is about sixty, with an old dark suit, a knitted pullover with a shallow v neck showing the knot of a tie. He is a little worried, perhaps, I will go all sceptical on him, but that is not interesting. What does it feel like, for him?

They are Christian spiritualists. They have been meeting here many years, with ordinary hymns. He is Anglican. They have a homily, then a message from Spirit- just like you. (I think it may be the same thing.) They have strange questions. One man wanted to speak to King Henry VIII- well, the spirits come if they wish, not at our choice, and an absolute King might not want to obey the summons of a commoner. Sometimes they get American Indians, who had a strong spiritual tradition. Delicately, I allude to pretence at mediumship. No, not with them, they are Christian Spiritualists- I infer that the National Spiritualists might be untrustworthy. They do healing by laying on of hands.

We don’t mind them, as long as they clean up the ectoplasm behind them, says Richard archly. Gosh, Richard, a joke?

If there is no perfection, it behoves me to seek good wherever I may find it. No, I do not believe they talk to the dead, but I do believe they might have insight or intuition, which manifests itself in this way. I might try their meeting.

Well. How do you think the miners might have foiled the ghastly plot to dig shafts upwards, and put them out of a job?

What I feel NOW

Knight and pennantThe task of the moment is to dry my hands. Water remains between the fingers: rub there, after rubbing the backs of the hands has dried them. The strong sensation is the warm air blown on my hands. Ignorant armies clash by nightI direct my attention to that sensation, and enjoy it for a moment after my hands feel actually dry- then it is too hot, and time to move on.

Mmm. In the moment for a moment. It is worthwhile, sensing where I am and what I am doing rather than the endless monologue about past and future. Having once done this with a blown air dryer, it is easier to do it with this one, now.

Coffee with Quakers. During our usual conversation of how to act well in the world, where to spend money and time, and what it is to be Quaker, I had two hot, sharp reminders of old hurts, and my feelings in those old hurts. I am writing in the evening, and this next bit is the realisation of the evening: the hurt was old, but the feeling wasn’t. I cannot recall what those memories were, now, which adds to the unreality, but I am certain enough: I could recall those incidents now with equanimity. The emotion of them would be in the past.

The past incident formed a symbol, for me to bring to consciousness my feeling at that moment. It comes with a sudden, hot sharp stink of fox, and overwhelms me for a moment. I am inside myself, rather than hearing what the others are saying. Such an intense feeling, and I cannot recall, either, what the feeling was. Then (it seems now) I went back to my ordinary being in the conversation: playing my accustomed part in it, being positive.

This level of sensitivity, my emotion suddenly grasping all of my attention, dragging me away from my companions, showing on my face and sharp intake of breath. It is What I Want, and at this point in my learning it seems too much, to distract me rather than informing me. Mmm. Breathe. Analyse, set the rational being onto the experience. This is my level of skill with such a thing, now. It is much better than being unaware of emotion. It might be good to sit with it if such a thing happens again, withdraw from the outside experience and commune with the inner one. Appreciate it. Say hello.

Kingsley tells of her holiday. She visited a loose-knit group of craftsmen, which had its origins in William Morris’s Arts and Crafts movement. They moved out of London together and set up shop, and the descendants of some are still there, making bespoke silverwork and beautiful things. There were difficulties: they had just got electricity in London, but not in the country, they had moved away from their market, and soon mass produced things which seemed like their hand-made items appeared, competing on price and quality. And people are still there. Mmm. A struggle, always needing to innovate, so I envy an illusion, but it is a tempting one. Given that I am so sensitive, it might be good to be able to work on a six inch square space, with tools and materials to create something beautiful. Past and future vanish and I devote myself to the immediate task.

Ah. That perfection I crave does not happen in real life.