This is a photo of my mother and stepdad on their wedding day. This morning I was braiding my hair and I thought of my mother. When I was in grade school, my mother would style my hair into long, perfect french braids every, single morning. It was an event. And it was typically painful. My mother is a perfectionist and she wouldn't hesitate to start my braids over three or four times to get them just right, all the while tugging on my hair so hard, I would be wincing in pain. Sometimes I would even be late for school because of the braiding process; however, when I arrived, people marveled at my perfect braids.
I love my mother. And she loves me. And I know that she had no intention of hurting me. I think she was just bound by needing things to be perfect. I hold no grudge against her for this. In fact, I have a lot of compassion for her, because I know what that bind feels like. I spent a large portion of my life caught up in needing things to be perfect, whether it was coming from a place of anxiety, control, a need for praise, wanting people to like me, linking accomplishment or appearance to my self-worth, basically, wanting people to marvel at my "braids", whatever form braids were taking at that point in my life (e.g., grades in school, degrees and credentials, the outer appearance of my life, the shape of my body). I was always looking for someone else to tell me that I was OK, that I was worthy, that I deserved to be here, to be loved, to be a person in the world. And it completely pulled me out of the joy and wonder of my experience.
Nowadays, it's easy for me to catch myself before I get pulled into the perfectionist bind. I notice it right away and I say, "No thank you. I'd rather enjoy myself than worry about making something perfect so that someone I don't even know or care about will think that I am worthy." Worth is inherent. My weight, my hairstyle, my clothes, how my life looks to others, my accomplishments, none of them will change my worth. It is a constant. And I certainly don't have to be perfect to earn it.
It is a relief to wear looser braids, braids that might become disheveled in the middle of the day. My head doesn't feel so tight and tense. It's more spacious and less contracted. I can do the things I want and need to do without worrying that I will ruin my braids (I used to hide in the bathroom when they had lice checks at school because I didn't want them to undo my braids). I can move through life with more joy and ease, picking up things that truly interest me rather than things that will make me look good, eating foods that I enjoy and make me feel vital rather than binding myself to a regimen that may yield a particular surface result (i.e., being skinny).
Do you find yourself in this bind? Try this: at various points throughout the day, pause. Maybe take a breath. Notice if your body feels tense and contracted. If it does, whatever you were doing prior to the pause, ask yourself, "Am I doing this for myself because I enjoy it or out of joyful service to others, OR, am I doing this because I am looking for someone else to tell me that I am OK?".
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