The Mask of Perfection
Today we are looking at the mask of perfection. To start, I want to share with you a story from my own life. It makes me very nervous to share it precisely because of the reasons for wearing the mask in the first place! So that’s why I know it’s important for me to share it.
My husband Chris and I adopted our three children all at once. They are siblings, and at the time that we adopted them, they were 3, 5 and 7 years old. Chris and I are both the youngest in our families and neither of us had much experience with kids. Needless to say, we went from zero to sixty on the freeway of parenting; this was no one-on-one thing, we went straight to zone defense.
Chris and I decided that we wanted to adopt. We had heard stories about how so many kids out there were living in foster homes and didn’t have any families. We wanted to give some kids a forever family.
We went through all of the paper work, training and home study that were required. It was many hours and lots of traveling that was involved. We met with our worker and talked about the kinds of kids we were hoping to adopt. After all of that was done, the waiting game began.
After a few months of waiting, we finally got a call. There was a sibling group of three that the agency felt would be a good fit for our family. They gave us a few details over the phone, and then we set up an appointment for the next day to learn more about them.
Almost immediately, we knew these kids were for us. So, even before our appointment the next day where we would learn more information about them, we prayed and decided that these kids were ours.
The next day, we went to the agency, talked with the worker, read the files and saw pictures of our future kids. Arrangements were set for us to begin the process of meeting them. We would put together a photo album about ourselves, our home and our pets for them to look at. Then, we would go visit them and take them out. Following that, we would have a few weekends where they would come home with us. If all that went well, they would come home with us to stay and we would work on finalizing the adoption.
After talking about all of those details, we decided to have an impromptu dinner with Chris’s parents to let them know what was going on. We went to Fazoli’s for dinner, with the photos of our new kids securely in my purse to show Chris’s parents who their first grandchildren would be.
As we were waiting in line, looking up at the menu, deciding what we were going to order, Chris was bumped in the leg by a little girl putting her booster seat away. When he looked down, he couldn’t believe what he saw. It was one of the kids on the photos we had in our possession. Chris tapped me on the shoulder and pointed. In shock, we both stared. We were looking at our soon to be youngest daughter. We then quickly glanced around and saw the other two as they were packing up to leave. God confirmed to us that day that he had indeed hand-picked these kids for us and in his grace and goodness, he gave us a first glimpse of the gift he had for us.
As any parent knows, even when you are bringing one small baby home into your life, change is difficult. Even good change is difficult. So, Chris and I were facing change and it wasn’t just one small baby, it was three children who were walking, talking, running around, in school and had already developed personalities and little wills of their own! No amount of training really prepared us.
Needless to say, there were some adjustments that we had to face. The first six months were difficult. We were adjusting to them, they were adjusting to us. And, it’s weird to say, but there was some grieving to work through in the process as well. It’s been hard for me to admit that, because it made me feel vulnerable and open to judgment. I’ve often judged myself for this and pronounced myself, yet again as, “Not Good Enough.” We had to face the loss of all of the alone time that we had, whenever we wanted it. Also, there was exponentially more laundry to do, more grocery shopping to do, meals to figure out that our kids would eat and like and be healthy (we had a few picky eaters on our hands), baths to give, schools to get the kids enrolled in, homework to help out with, and of course trying to help them to adjust with their own losses and emotional adjustments as well.
At the time that we adopted the kids, Chris was a youth director, and because of his position in the church, I felt like I lived in a glass house. When different people made comments to me it always felt like they were keeping tabs on me and they almost seemed to know my every move. (Looking back, I know now that this was mostly my own perception, but that’s how I saw it then.) This would make me cringe inside, and my mask would be put securely in place. If they really knew me, they would know that I was a failure and that I wasn’t good enough.
People started to talk about me or introduce me as “The Lady Who Adopted Three Children.” When they talked about me like that, it felt like they were putting me on a pedestal. They would make comments like, “You are so great, it’s such a wonderful thing that you did! The kids must be so grateful!” Having been put so high on a pedestal, and not even being known by my first name, but rather by what I did, I felt like I couldn’t possibly let anyone know that I wasn’t so great and I didn’t have everything together. It was a long way to fall down and at the bottom would be failure. Again, I wouldn’t be good enough.
One Sunday morning, shortly after we got the kids, we were having a particularly difficult morning getting the kids ready for church. You know the kind of morning I’m talking about right? The one where everything that could go wrong, did go wrong? I felt like I was pulling my hair out trying to get everyone up and ready to go, looking their best and I was feeling exasperated and at my wits end. Inside, I was a mess. I wanted to cry and stay home and have time to myself without all of my new responsibilities.
That morning, after only a couple of weeks in, I wanted to retire from the job of parenting. I desperately wanted some relief, but instead, I put on a smile to keep up appearances. When we got to church, the woman who was greeting said, “You simply look radiant, motherhood is sure agreeing with you!” I felt like that couldn’t be further from the truth. Thinking to myself, “If only you new, I was looking for my receipt for those children just this morning!” But, instead, I smiled and simply said, “thank you.”
The mask of perfection is the one that we put on when we fear being a failure. With perfectionism, we find ourselves caught up in the performance trap, trying to attain a certain set of standards. We have our own standards to live up to. We have other’s standards to live up to. These standards can be both real and perceived ones. It’s impossible to live up to all of those standardsThe well known, “I’m not good enough,” thought is never far away. We not only fear failure, but we feel being judged by others and most of the time we are our own worst critic.
Here are a few ways that it might look for you: Our house is neat and well decorated; our kids are clean, dressed well, polite, respectful, obedient and work hard at school; we are trim and fit with stylish hair and clothes and always look put together; we are educated and have careers where we are moving up the ladder; we are great at planning healthy meals, clipping coupons and finding great bargains; we are involved in church and other activities; we have time for our relationships and never let anyone down. The list could go on. Do you recognize any of these?
Have you ever found yourself dismissing another’s praise for your work by saying something like, “It’s really not that good,” or “I could do better if I had more time?” Have you ever found yourself making excuses like, “Please ignore my messy house,” or “This is just a rough draft?” Have you ever declined being involved in something in the first place in order to avoid the eventual feeling of failure? Have you ever had it, where you let your mask down for a minute, acted real with someone, and they responded with surprise to you by saying, “I never would have known! You always looked like you had everything together!” If so, these things are evidence that you may put on this mask from time to time.
Do you see how if you live with this mask in place, it contributes to feelings of low self-esteem, low self-confidence and to living an inauthentic life? In order to begin to live in true confidence and authenticity, you not only need to recognize when you are hiding behind this mask, but also begin to take steps to remove it.
I love this excerpt from the book, “The Nesting Place: It Doesn’t Have To Be Perfect To Be Beautiful,” by Myquillyn Smith, and I think it will aid us in our understanding of this mask and overcoming it.
“Years ago I had a friend who seemed to have it all together. I mean, we all know that nobody’s perfect, but every now and then we meet someone who tests the theory. She was breathtakingly beautiful – like, for real. She was the prettiest friend I’ve ever had, her husband had a fantastic stable job, and their two children were darling. Her house was gorgeous. She never seemed to have to work on it; it just was. She was also one of the kindest people I knew. Drat!
But I always felt uncomfortable around her, as if I wasn’t good enough. Being around someone who seems perfect only makes our own imperfections more glaring.
Then my friend and I got to know each other. She shared some issues she was struggling with, and a funny thing happened. I started to feel comfortable around her. I finally figured out that we were both members of the same club. Human, imperfect, and lovely. I could relax, be myself, and not feel judged, because we were both aware of our flaws. Sharing the not-so-pretty parts of our lives solidified our friendship.” (page 59)
The reality is that our lives are sometimes a mess. We are broken people who don’t have it all together. We sin, we make mistakes, and we get things wrong. It’s okay. Sometimes we do need help. We need help form others and we need help from God.
So, how do you go about taking off this mask? I try to remind myself again that it is God who is really in control of my life. I tell myself that trying to be perfect is really an illusion and it’s better for me to be honest with myself and with others that I’m not.
Our lives are sometimes a mess, and its okay to admit that. We can trust that God has our best interests in mind and we can depend on him for help. We can trust that when we allow ourselves to be real and vulnerable with others that we can develop closer relationships as a result. We can lean on our friends for help to get through the tough stuff as well.
A coach of mine once told me about some thoughts she had when doing her devotions one day. She said, “When God created the world, at the end of each day, He said it was “good.” He did not say, “Oh rats, I forgot to do…” or “I could have designed another color,” or “Wow, that sure didn’t turn out very good, maybe I should keep working on it.” No, God completed His work and said it was good.” We can learn from this and be pleased with the work that we do and accept compliments from others when they give it instead of brushing them off.
Again, let’s be sure to recognize that just like the other masks we’ve looked at so far, this mask is put into place when our focus is on ourselves. If we are worried of being judged by others, we put up the mask to hide ourselves from that potential judgment. However, if our focus is on Jesus, we can depend on him to give us strength to face failures and struggles openly. We can also recognize that if someone judges us, it’s not really about us; their judgment is more about them. The fact is if we are worried about receiving judgment from others, chances are we are pretty good at judging others as well. Judgment really is a result of making comparisons with others. When we do this, we either end up trying to make ourselves feel better because we’ve judged them as “worse” than us, or we end up beating ourselves up because we didn’t make the cut. Either way, the focus is again in the wrong place.If we focus on Jesus, we can learn to see both ourselves and others the way He sees us. Click To Tweet
Have you worn the mask of perfection? What does it look like when you wear it? What are some steps that you can take to begin removing it? What would it mean for you to switch your focus to be more on Jesus and less on yourself? I’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment!