Part I: On Money, Love & Being Enough
I came from a lineage of militant survival principles. Dad was born and raised in Germany, during World War II. Two years after my Dad was born, his Dad was decapitated by a bomb in Russia. So like many men steeped in a legacy of war, my Dad grew up fatherless. Growing up under a dictatorship that insists on fighting, oppressing, abusing and ultimately killing to find security is the same legacy of war that we see in our world today.
I grew up with many privileges. Aside from going on family ski trips and taking piano lessons, I grew up without having to worry about fighting for my survival. Dad loved to remind me of this often, as he’d tell me about his first job polishing shoes for the nuns when he was 6 years old. Or when he worked on a farm in exchange for his meals when he was 7 years old.
When I was 5 years old, I polished Dad’s Oxfords for 10 cents a pair. I was so proud to be earning my worth. If I missed a spot, Dad would say, “Do it right the first time, and you won’t have to do it again.” I imagined this is what he said to all of his employees at his cleaning business.
I wanted to be better than his employees to get Dad’s attention. Sometimes I’d spend an entire Saturday sitting on piles of newspapers in the back entry, polishing his shoes with old ratty t-shirts, wanting to get it right the first time, and impress him with the shiniest shoes he’d ever seen.
I diligently learned the value of 10 cents and perfecting tasks, not only to be paid, but to be loved.
Perfectionism was celebrated and rewarded.
Now, I’m learning to love that innocent part of me that mistook perfectionism for being worthy of love. Most importantly, I’m learning to love that broken wing, without forcing or pushing it to change or improve.
I’m also learning that healing the perfectionism in my family system goes far beyond being frustrated by not getting things quite ‘right’ the first time around.
Healing perfectionism is about healing inherited survival mechanisms.
My uncle was the most meticulous perfectionist I’ve ever known. He was also gay. I can’t image the fear he must have faced everyday when he went to Jungvolk school under Hitler’s regime.
Gay men during Hitler’s reign were targeted for persecution because they were viewed to be carriers of a “contagion” that weakened society and did not contribute to the desired growth of the “Aryan” population. An estimated 100,000 men were arrested for violating Nazi Germany’s law against homosexuality. Thousands were sentenced to prison, and thousands more were sent to concentration camps. Luckily my uncle masked himself enough with perfectionism that he wasn’t one of these thousands of men.
My partner is African American. He’s one of the smartest and most visionary people I know. He has three college degrees, has traveled to over fifty countries. Definitely Type A. And definitely a perfectionist. And definitely part of a lineage that had to fight for their survival during slavery and post-slavery in the Southern United States.
My partner’s tendency for perfectionism, made me also consider the generational survival mechanisms that he’s had to endure as product of his ancestor’s slavery. In his mind, he has to be perfect, or else, it could cost him his life.
You can imagine how perfectionism plays out in a relationship. When my partner requests something of me, I can default into thinking it’s because I haven’t done something ‘good enough’. And of course, the same can happen in reverse. If he hasn’t met my expectations in some way, he may feel he’s falling short.
When my partner is in uber-organizing mode, I may feel I’m not measuring up to his pace. Instead of saying I don’t want to rush, I’d push myself to catch-up. These pushes to ‘measure up’ easily led me to dishonor my own pace, rhythm, and integrity. This may seem like a small thing. But it’s a big thing when it can potentially snowball over time into resentment.
Understanding and healing the origin and the roots of my own perfectionism, has made me see how my relationship with my partner has a profound opportunity for healing for both of us.
By giving compassion to the part of myself that’s always striving to do more and achieve more, I’m also learning how to love him when he gets stressed and feels he’s falling short. Recognizing how we both came from lineages that were fighting for life and death has a profound impact on my ability to be more spacious and compassionate.
It also made me see that healing inherited perfectionism isn’t just for me, it’s for humanity.
It’s about healing the sickness of scarcity.
“We are one mind. One voice. One heart. One family.” Our Kofan shaman recited this before he opened the door and let in some air into the sweat lodge. After our night long plant medicine ceremony, my partner and I along with sixteen others marinated in our sweat and prayers in a ‘inipi’ sweat lodge in the jungle for an hour. It’s in those moments I prayed to let go of this iron fist that’s manifested inside of me tying perfection to my worth.
Healing ourselves as individuals, means we heal each other.
If you can relate to the feeling of ‘not enough’, know that when you love the part of yourself that inherently feels you’re not measuring up, it’ll help you be less demanding and expectant of other’s perfectionism too.
We’re all in this together.
Wishing you peace and harmony this holiday.