When I was a kid, my anxiety was managed through control. I controlled my room, my performance at school, my hair, and eventually my body. I believed the more structure I had in my life, the less uncertainty I had to face. And it worked for a while, except if I lost my spelling book for example, I would have a full blown melt down. I would become out of control with fear and stress that if I didn’t find my book I would fail my spelling test. Yes, my friends, I was growing up to become a class A perfectionist.
As many of you know, perfection doesn’t exist. But in my dad’s mind, it did. So I tried to be perfect. Again and again I studied and got good marks, but this didn’t improve my self worth. Every validation I sought for was matched with “you could do better” or “your sister did better than you in this subject”.
And part of me believes he had good intentions. He wanted us not to settle for sub par. He wanted us to reach our full potential. And maybe that’s true, or maybe he felt so insecure of not reaching his own potential in life that he had to live vicariously through us.
I’m not sure. I’m not a parent.
All I know is this:
The idea of perfection will hold you back in life because
It makes you hyper critical. It makes you less creative. It makes you constantly compare yourself to others. It makes you desperate for affirmation that “you’re enough”.
When I was a child, I organized everything. My mom says, even my diaper bag was packed by me, I was that meticulous. As I grew up, I shared a room with my sister and the one thing we would always fight about was the order of the room. I wanted it perfect. I don’t think any of them realized this at the time, but the order kept me calm. It still does. Because as a child I was anxious about everything: the dark, heights, strangers, under performing at school, and my dad. I grew up during the time of belt and wooden spoon spankings, but I have to say the belt was worse. The snapping of a belt still triggers me. Now that wasn’t all that worried me about him. What really worried me about him was how volatile he was. Every day was uncertain. It was like walking in a war zone when you don’t know where the bombs are buried. I felt my heart race when he would snap his fingers at us to stop talking. I felt like hiding when he would start yelling. I didn’t know where the abuse would land, but usually it landed on my brother. My beautiful, big brother always protected us from him. And so did my mom. My mom tried her hardest to shield us from his fury. But I know the damage this caused her.
You wonder where anxiety comes from, sometimes it comes from within your own home.
Please seek help for your childhood trauma. You are always worthy of help.
This episode has me feeling all the feels. Grown men, fathers, talking about their vulnerabilities always gets me teary. He told Joe, “Don’t let your trauma time travel.”
And don’t I know I do that. I not only let it time travel. I let it brood and take pieces of me. I drag it around with me like an anchor, yet never let it down when I get to shore. There is no shore. I just sail in circles brooding and shaking with anger.
But here is this grown man who has experienced a thousand more times the trauma than I have telling Joe to let it go.