Are We Human?

A cult classic, Napoleon Dynamite, just might hold the key to unlocking most of what makes me tick. I mean “tick” in that time-bomb-steer-clear-when-she’s-in-one-of-her-moods way.

Last night I awoke for a 2 AM feeding and let my mind roll over the dream that had been playing out, once again, on the screen in my mind. I had somehow finally managed to communicate my feelings to the object of my unrequited affection. My mind was at peace.

“Elissa,” I implored, “why are you still ruminating 15 years later over a guy who didn’t love you back? You’re in the midst of your fourth baby with the love of your life drooling next to you!”

[He drools over me when he’s awake].

“Yeah, Elissa, what gives?”

And then I had it. The screen in my mind played this clip of  Uncle Rico reminiscing in Napoleon Dynamite. It told me everything I needed to know about my recurring dream.

Uncle Rico

You see, Uncle Rico and I have a significant personality trait in common, which is…


“I was sure she was going to say they were both creepy or arrogant. Weird.”

I searched for a decent article or publication on perfectionism, and this one from Huffington Post about covered it: 14 Signs Your Perfectionism Has Gotten Out of Control. Uncle Rico demonstrates, at the least, signs number 2, 4, 5, 9, 10, 12, and 13.

He and I think that if we replay our moments of rejection over and over again somehow we’ll change the past and undo all the fallout that occurs when a perfectionist is met with failure, criticism, and missed opportunities.

[I finally made a therapy appointment, so I’m calling this blog my prep work. And even though the article suggests that authenticity and vulnerability are the cures for perfectionism, I have found that baring my soul to an online audience isn’t really the same thing as embracing my wonderfully imperfect self. So therapy, here I come!]

My sister-in-law watched me crumble yesterday at the news that my baby wasn’t gaining weight fast enough and would need to get more bottles of fortified breast milk. Was I sad for my baby? No, I thought the weight goal was stupid. Was I sad for having my whole life spent giving bottles, washing feeding and pumping gear, and being pumped for milk? No, but probably mad that I would be tethered to my home like a cow to a fence post.

Mostly, I was hurt that my breast milk was inadequate for my baby’s growth and that my efforts at giving three to four fortified bottles each day had been inadequate.

I can’t even control how rich my breast milk is! Why am I taking something personally that I can’t even control? I also can’t control my baby’s metabolism. Maybe he’ll get chubby, maybe he won’t. Feeding my baby isn’t a measure of my worth as a mother, it’s just a necessary function.

I also read that perfectionism is an inherited trait, according to this psychiatry study. I can definitely see perfectionist tendencies in family members and in some of my children. Perhaps it is somewhat transmitted by upbringing, but I don’t see that in my experience. My parents were always proud of me for doing well in my endeavors, but they put zero pressure on me to perform well. All of that came from an internal drive.

For example, at age seven, I began counting the letters in phrases, slogans, sentences, and so on. If the number of letters was a multiple of 10 or 5, then I deemed that phrase/slogan/sentence “good.” All others were “bad.” I still remember that “Gillette–the best a man can get” was a “good” slogan.

As a perfectionist, I can probably remember every single criticism I have ever received from grade school through career and into motherhood, both from peers and from authority figures. I generally don’t dwell on them in a negative way, but the words, tone of voice, and feeling of injury are all there in my memory if I feel like accessing them for some reason. When I am under a lot of stress and/or not getting enough sleep, my recall for these moments gets quite sharp.

I can definitely attest to perfectionism leading to anxiety and depression. Striving for excellence comes from a place of confidence and joy. Maybe that’s where I started in my academic and athletic pursuits as a child. But perfectionism is the offspring of fear. It’s a way of hiding from the pain of criticism, loss, and failure. I spend most of my life trying to prevent “bad” from happening, while not even seeing what is “good” anymore.

Instead, I want to just start seeing it all as “necessary.”

“You want joy and satisfaction? Make some worthwhile goals. Then try on some pain and suffering with a bit of gratitude and monotony thrown in there for good measure. Soon you’ll find that you have planted seeds instead of just endlessly pulling weeds.” I don’t know why there’s a third person giving advice here. Or why he sounds like Jim Gaffigan in my brain.

I may not move through life with the precision of a perfectly orchestrated machine, but I am human, and with the knowledge and perspective I am gaining, that is enough.

[The 1995 song “Perfect” by Alanis Morissette was, well, perfect for this post, but the lyrics sound too much like the criticism committee that takes over my mind sometimes. I didn’t want to give them a way to broadcast their message into every corner of my mind right now].


2 thoughts on “Are We Human?

  1. I’ve been thinking about anxiety and perfectionism and their vicious dance. Explains the first 34.5 years of my life;) Good luck with the counselor! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I envision an endlessly hungry wolf chasing an indefatigable rabbit. No matter how it pursues, lunges, snaps at the rabbit, the wolf remains hungry. And no matter how it hides from, outruns, and outmaneuvers the wolf, the rabbit remains in fear. Perfectionism will never obtain perfection and anxiety will never find rest.


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