Perfectionism and Liza Hamilton

For as long as I can remember, I have suffered from a compulsion to do things at an unnecessary pace. When I was in elementary school, I tried to finish my entire English book one day while the teacher was teaching the class one lesson. In middle school, well, I skipped 7th grade. I graduated from high school when I was 16 years old. In community college, there was one semester in which I took 21 units and worked three jobs. I cannot fathom what it is that compels me to hurtle myself toward these imaginary deadlines, but I am trying to overcome this destructive habit.

It’s nice for people to have high standards for themselves, to set goals, etc. However, this is not exactly what is happening for me when I throw myself at self-imposed deadlines. I have found that I often not only do not finish well, but I destroy myself in the process of trying to finish things as fast as possible for no apparent reason whatsoever.

This is the working of the lie of perfectionism. It is as if there is an invisible tightrope between two cliffs overseeing a raging river called Healing. In the water, suspended beneath the tightrope is a raft called Acceptance. The perfectionist stands on one cliff, surveys the scene, and logically presumes that the safest method of travel is the tightrope, especially considering that leaping from the cliff, attempting to land in the raft without bashing one’s skull would be impossible. The logical perfectionist, having chosen the tightrope, takes a step, looks at the other side, and quickly finds him or herself halfway across. Upon reaching the other side, however, the perfectionist discovers an unexpected glitch. The perfectionist has been rewound, as it were, and he or she must walk across again! It doesn’t take long for the tightrope walker to question reality and his or her own sanity. This tightrope is a time loop.

The time loop tightrope is not real, friend. It is a projection of the perfectionist imagination, constructed by isolated faith in personal logic. Logic is good, but it can be a traitor left to its own devices. It’s like the moon rocks that turn out to be ferocious killer crabs (Apollo 18). The most frightening thing about the perfectionism tightrope or about logic is the idea that in order to heal, the perfectionist must understand everything about his or her pain and healing. There is no water, there is no raft, there is no acceptance, there is only striving and vanity and striving for vanity.

I’ve been reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck, and there is a woman in the story, Liza Hamilton. She is fierce, strong, and resilient. She stood out to me because I am not like her. She accepts things. She reads the Bible and accepts it, she buries a child and accepts it, and so on. No matter what circumstances surround her, she accepts them and moves forward. I don’t suggest she is an unfeeling, griefless robot, but she doesn’t try to change or control things. She is adamant and integrated; she takes things as they come. I think life is easier for people like Liza. I think life is easier when we don’t try to be the centers of our universes.

I don’t want to accept things, let them go, and move forward. I want to know everything, I want to understand everything, decipher everything, and sometimes, I want to be able to control everything. Please understand that I don’t mean these are desires of my heart. These are coping mechanisms developed by natural inclinations of my worrisome and overly introspective personality. Even so, I’m learning from Liza Hamilton in this season of my life, and I am learning float on Acceptance throughout the journey of Healing.


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