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Taming My Inner Perfectionist, Pt 1

I’m going to be vulnerable with you today.

Before I got married, I kept my apartment spotless. My laundry stayed done, I cooked full meals for myself (and then lived off the leftovers), and I budgeted well. There were times I borrowed money from my parents for my cell phone bill if I didn’t make enough tips at Cracker Barrel that month, but I mostly kept my bills paid, paid my tithes, etc. I also spent time every day reading the Bible and praying.

These things are important because over the course of my marriage, I changed so much that it’s hard to believe that I used to live that life almost effortlessly.

Add in sixteen years of abuse (fifteen of those married), and I no longer recognized the girl in the mirror. Anxiety, depression, and PTSD joined forces with my inner perfectionist, and those things were no longer effortless. Every day tasks were often overwhelming.

Over the course of my marriage, nothing was ever enough. If I spent hours deep cleaning the living room and kitchen, I heard about how dirty the bedroom was. If I got all the laundry done (which is quite a chore with two adults and three children), I heard about the dirty dishes.

Eventually I found out I have arthritis in both arms – from shoulder to fingertip. Trauma aggravates pain (sometimes even causes it), so I lived with chronic pain that made simple chores not so simple.

I was told to rest, to not worry about the chores because I needed to take care of my body. If I ignored those instructions, he was angry and took it out on me. If I followed those instructions, I was lazy and he took his anger out on me. I was sent on regular guilt trips no matter what I did or didn’t do.

He left messes around the house but acted as if the house’s dirtiness was only because of me and the kids. Clothes were taken off and dropped on the floor wherever he was. He ate where he felt like eating and left dirty dishes around. He drank alcohol and left the bottles around. *Side note to be clear – alcohol did not fuel his abuse.

I would try to stay on my kids about keeping their chores done and their rooms clean, but rarely did he back me up in this. He would come home from work and let them off the hook. My authority with the girls was shot to pieces, yet it was still considered my fault that their rooms were cluttered and they left toys around the house.

I didn’t just hear about it from him either. I can’t tell you how many times outsiders would tell me, “If you would just be consistent with them, they’ll eventually learn.” Unfortunately that only works in healthy situations.

Between the abuse, the anxiety/depression/PTSD (all caused by the abuse), and my inner perfectionist, I eventually reached a point where everything felt pointless. What was the point in cleaning everything if it was never enough? What was the point in trying to maintain a tidy house when he would come home and revert it to its previous messy state?

*This is not intended to be a whiny, “feel sorry for me” post. I am trying to nutshell feelings from nearly two decades in order to help you understand why I’m where I am today.*

It’s been two and a half years since I packed up the girls and left. We moved into a domestic violence shelter for three months before I was able to find an apartment for us. And what a joy it was when we finally got our own place!

Phew, that was a long intro. If you are still with me, thank you for “listening” and for making it this far!

Although I no longer suffer from clinical anxiety and depression, my inner perfectionist is still alive and well. PTSD is a lifelong condition (barring a miraculous healing, and since God has not chosen to heal it, I assume He has designed a plan for it). Between these two things, I still struggle to do things the way I want them done.

I have improved significantly over the last two and a half years, but I still have a ways to go. It is an almost-every day battle to stay motivated. The “what’s the point” fog still hits semi-regularly – especially with COVID stress adding to everything over the last year.

I believe there is a saying somewhere along the lines of “knowing is half the battle” and that is definitely true for me.

I kept telling myself that I can’t be a perfectionist because my house isn’t spotless all the time. I finally shared this with my therapist because I was so frustrated at my lack of motivation – not just for keeping a cleaner apartment, but for writing this blog and for working on my novel, etc. She told me something that changed my perspective.

Not all perfectionists think and act the same way. Knowing that I am, indeed, a perfectionist helped me figure things out.

My perfectionism prevents me from doing things rather than inspires me to do them.

Feeling like I can never get it just right has kept me from working on my novel far more often than I would like. Knowing that our apartment is old and yucky has made it harder for me to keep it as clean as I want it to be. The girls and I keep up with the basic cleaning pretty well, but the deep cleaning/decluttering is a monumental task that I sometimes fear. Being real here.

Over the last few weeks I have been examining my thought processes and feelings. I’ve asked for advice on productivity and motivation from people who are doing things well (including my sister!). I’ve started considering what in my life I can do without – and not just physically. I’ve prayed for motivation and for wisdom and direction in this area of my life.

Tomorrow’s post will share some of the things that I have found that help me with taming my inner perfectionist.

If this post resonated with you, know that you are not alone. It’s difficult and embarrassing to admit that I am no longer the best housekeeper, but I felt like I was supposed to share transparently. If you are struggling with guilt right now, tell it to take a hike and then come back tomorrow to see if any of the things that helped me will work for you!

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