Perfection and Anti-Perfection. Deception and Anti-Deception
Three Letters from a Therapist to Jerry [21/22]
LETTER 1 JULY 7, 2000.
Well, our discussion certainly shifted a gear or two since our first meeting, did it not? Were you surprised in any way that the curse of the idea of Perfection was implicated in so much of your distress, concerns, dismay and what I take to be the onset of a very early retirement, at the age of 20, from your life. You captured this curse by your phrase- “nothing is ever good enough”.
You acknowledged ruefully how it deprives you of any satisfaction or pleasure. It forces you to hide your work away and moreover hide yourself away from others. It prevents you from talking to people with whom you wish to speak. It has you looking inwards rather than outwards to the world at large. It has even gone so far as to convince you that “I can’t take the next step to adulthood until I am PERFECT”. And, in fact, “you’ve got to be better than anyone else”.
Jerry, would you consider the curse of the idea of Perfection a form of deception that if not countered will deceive you into turning the clock back on your life and become a modern-day Miss Havisham, embittered in a time-warp where time itself has ceased to ‘tick’? This conversation both outraged me at the same time as dismayed me until you spoke cautiously of your capacity to exclude Perfection from matters of the heart, where you can be foot-loose and fancy-free. At such times, you are no longer a “prisoner” of Perfection. I was very taken by your comments that followed and in no way feel I really fathomed what you were saying. I hope you will bear with my curiosity to do so next time we meet. This is what you had to say: “I am a very emotionally strong person and the emotion overrides stupid thoughts”. You agreed that was a truer expression of you than ‘beating’ everyone else. In fact, you spoke of “always having a big thing for the fierce compassion of others”. Jerry, can you see, as I am dimly doing, how what you refer to as your ’emotions'( or in other words of yours as your “fierce compassion”) are the means by which you are countering Perfection’s practices of deception? Why I say that is I find ‘being better than the best’ and the ethics of care that undergird your ‘fierce compassion’ as to be both logically and morally incompatible and irreconcilable? What about you? Has Perfection somehow had you downgrade this ‘fierce compassion’ for others? If so, on what moral or ethical grounds?
Jerry, can you tell me the ‘history’ of your ‘fierce compassion’? Where do you get it from? What is its genealogy? Who of all the people in your life would be least surprised to know how keenly compassion burns in your soul? Your mother? Your father? Your uncle? Your aunt? Your school-teachers? etc? Who? Why do you take pride in something surely Perfection would scoff at and ridicule you for harbouring such ’emotions’? And why do you think Perfection, as you put it, has you “be nasty to myself” and won’t allow you any compassion for your self? WHY?? And it was interesting for me to learn how “when I write a piece of music..for a few minutes, I pat myself on the back..but it fades”. Jerry, does it fade or does Perfection repudiate that very experience of self-respect? And if so, do you have any idea why this should be? Jerry, do you consider than in general ‘self-respect’ is the antidote for living the cursed life Perfection leads you to live? Is that in any way an interesting thought or prospect? And if so, what do you make of it?
You say that you friends, Jonathon and Keith, are “mad at me”. If they knew all the above, do you suspect they might be mad at Perfection and even more considerate of you? When I enquired what their opinions would be if “self-respect took up more time and space in your life”, you replied without any second thoughts – “They would be happy for me!” You then went on to tell me that Perfection does everything it can to rule out anyone’s compliments or praise and tells you not to accept it. Jerry, would you mind reflecting on a guess of mine – ‘has Perfection turned you against yourself to the extent that everyone elses’ respect for you is seen to be a danger to you? If so, can you take this question to Perfection – “If other people’s respect is a danger to me, would would become of me If I really accepted what people say about my musicianship and lyrical abilities’?
YOURS AGAINST THE CURSE OF THE IDEA OF PERFECTION,
PS: Can you take any notes of anything that rings a bell for you from Brian’s anti-anorexic documents which I have sent you separately by post. And do you mind underlining those bits so we can research them together. Many thanks for your help with this ‘work’, work that is life-saving as well as life-enhancing.
LETTER 2: JULY 18, 2000.
You told me right off that “I have been thinking about Perfection a lot” and are considering that “basically it is a defense mechanism that I put up so that I can never be myself..I can always say what I”m doing isn’t good enough”. When I asked why you might defend yourself against being Jerry, you aid that “I am scared of what other people think of who I am and what I can do”. Jerry, is this the deception we were discussing last letter?
Why I ask is your means of counter-deception – “my emotional side can override Perfection with others but not myself”. When I asked if you would consider your ’emotional side’ to be anti-perfection, you agreed that that was very likely. You then told me that you refer to yourself as “unhealthily sensitive”, fearing that “others can hurt me” but by the same token, you are insensitive to yourself, believing that “I can’t hurt others”. Not only that, you believe you can’t speak your mind, express your desires and appetites or show anyone else your feelings.
You courageously told me about Sarah, whom you met and fell in love with in your first year at University. You were l8 and she was l7 at the time and “we had known each other for ages’. You mentioned how it “got really weird when it came time to take the next step…I didn’t know how to handle it”, even though as you put it, “I felt more deeply than I ever had before”. When I asked, you guess it “was love”. We spoke together about the so-called ‘divine madness’ and in your words, “what an amazing kind of thing” it was. When I asked if you could put words to it, you said that you could “put music to it”. You told me how you were “too scared to take it any further..she tried to and I freaked out..I was crazy”. Afterwards, you spoke of how “disappointed in myself” you were. And “we didn’t speak for another year. I avoided being near her or I would purposefully leave”. In reply to a question of mine, you said that “she can’t understand” and that “she wouldn’t think I think about what happened”. Jerry, is it possible Sarah got the wrong idea? Is it possible that she took your ‘crazy love’ to be disinterest or dislike or disapproval? Jerry, have you any interest in straightening the ‘record’ of your ‘crazy love’, if I can call it that, with Sarah in case any misunderstandings on her part lead to her unnecessary suffering? The outcome for you has been that “I haven’t let anyone in since then”. And if anything, Jerry, you have been hiding yourself away, have you not?
When I asked what Perfection might say about the ‘crazy love’, you thought that it would say – “He’s not good enough. Can he hold a relationship at all?” Jerry, do you think it is commendable that despite all the above, “I talk to her now when I see her”. This was at the end of last year when being “drunk” assisted you to break the ice with Sarah. Were you surprised that “it was good for me. She still wanted to talk to me. She didn’t think I was weird. It was a relief.” Jerry, what were you relieved of? Still, in terms of relationships, you tell me that “it is so hard to get back on track”. Jerry, do you agree that you certainly had been derailed and that your love had been thwarted?
Where to from here, we wondered. You concluded- “I really have to get past Perfection.” We discussed how counter-cultural you were in terms of how you aspire to conduct relationships with women. You told me you are seeking “a complete connection, knowing someone intimately at a deep level”. And you are not without others in this quest of yours. You told me of “a few friends like me…Keith, Jonathon, Mathew and Paul”. You concluded that “we are nice, sensitive guys and that doesn’t work”. Jerry, are you so sure about that? Are you so sure? Perhaps you being deceived and calling shyness, what you referred to at our last meeting – ‘fierce compassion’. you told me you would find it impossible to “be ruthless and uncaring”. When I asked some of the sources for such a counter cultural view of relationships between men and women, you sourced musicians such as Neil Finn, Crowded House, Alanis Morrissette, Jewel, Counting Crows and then said the list could go on and on.
We went back to the source of deception- Perfection, which you consider “has always been there” and it has always had you “be hard on myself”. Do you think Perfection exploited the fact that “I’m talented. I must achieve all that I can and use the gifts I was given.” Has Perfection parlayed your talents into a crucifix for you to bear rather than a way to delight yourself and others? I know people have “always told me I’m extremely talented and musical” but what would they think if they knew their best wishes had become something of a curse for you and your life? When I asked if there was anyone who might be willing to oppose perfection and its deceptions, you thought Leigh would. As you put it, “he understands and is similar to me”. When I asked what he would say if he had been a party to our conversations so far, you thought he would say- “Me too. Perfection is in me too!”
When I asked what you made of Brian’s account of his struggle with Perfection, you said something I don’t think I quite took in right away. “When you see it on paper, you realize how ridiculous and absurd it is!” You then went on to tell me something in the order of a COUNTER DECEPTION. We were remembering how eating food had been converted into a death threat- “Don’t eat this…it will kill you!’ When I first met you, I am pretty sure that was pretty compelling of you. Now you are in a position to review that and say with considerable aplomb- “That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard! How did I get there? How was I listening to those ridiculous thoughts”. Jerry, those are certainly questions worthy of our attention, are they not? In this matter of DECEPTION AND COUNTER-DECEPTION, isn’t there something of great relevance? For example, how could a young man, talented and sensitive, be turned against the very sustenance of his health and life in general? Are those questions you might consider reflecting upon, Jerry? How did you deceive Perfection’s deceptions? Jerry, couldn’t it in the end have not only compromised your life but finally taken it?
Even if we are not very close to a good understanding of DECEPTION AND YOUR COUNTER-DECEPTION, you have no qualms about stating, “I’ve come such a long way from five months ago. I can drive here. I can do little things.” Jerry, what did you think of the anti-perfection idea of the little things being the big things? Do you recall how Perfection was requiring you to be Perfect before you could even enjoy the status of ‘adult’? When I enquired what you were proudest of, you told me, “I didn’t take the easy option. I could not have felt more despair than I did. It will serve me well for the rest of my life”. Jerry, is that because you now know that whatever there is to face in your life, nothing can be more terrorizing than that which you came through not so long ago? Jerry, how much guts did it take to go against everyone’s advice to medicate yourself?
Jerry, what exactly did you mean by, “I got a glimpse of reality. I saw the absurdity and ridiculousness in what I do as well”. Jerry, by the same token, would you be willing to consider how you had been deceived into having ‘reality’ distorted and made as real as ‘reality’??? Still, this has led you to “feeling more confident and defying and not listening to the thoughts” which has had the result of “not being so worried”. When I asked if you might attempt to quantify the % increase in defiance and repudiation of Perfection’s deception of you and ‘reality’ itself, you judged that five months ago, it was Perfection – 70% and Jerry- 30%; now it is Jerry- 60 % and Perfection- 40%. You concluded- “I am now definitely on the other side”.
Jerry, is there a risk of Perfection trying to deceive you into reclaiming your life back PERFECTLY? Or are you more willing now to do so bit by bit, and IMPERFECTLY?? We both agreed that a 30% improvement in a relatively short time was about as fast as anyone would want to go. And by slowing down, Jerry, you might carefully take stock of your COUNTER-DECEPTIONS? I know that you are wiling to “give myself more time” but might you take advantage of that time? You suggested for any further agenda that we talk about Perfection and “what caused me to get into this” in the first place. They seem like very worthwhile talking points. Jerry, did I get you right- did you say that “Perfection was putting out the flame inside of me”?
I wondered at times if I was hearing things and if I wasn’t able to check that out with you on several occasions, I suspect I still would be. Let me quote you- “I have been doing a lot of celebrating and having fun.” In fact, you had attended three 2lst birthday parties, including your own. If 2lsts are still what they used to be, they are pretty important social rituals, marking your adult status. Jerry, when I asked if you had come out as Jerry at yours, you smiled in acknowledgement of that. On that occasion, you went out to dinner with eight friends and you are now even wondering if, in the near future, “might even have a party sometime”. And at Jonathon’s instead of fading into the wallpaper, you stood up for him and made the speech which, as you put it, “went down really well, especially the sentimental part of it”. I enquired what Perfection had to say about this, you said that “I had doubts if I wanted to do the speech but it was too important. I had been asked and I had to do it”. Jerry, if Perfection was at its full strength, how do you guess it would have undone even the best of your good intentions? You saw your speech as your “mark of respect” for both Jonathon and yourself. As you put it, “I am really glad I did it!” And what’s more, you were willing to take into yourself other peoples’ acclaim which had what you described as a very interesting effect on you- “It made me feel good about myself”. Why was it possible to accept other peoples’ respect for you? What’s more, you described last week as “a really good week” and that was certainly something I doubt you would have been said when we first met some months ago. What do you think?
We talked about banning Perfection for that whole week and how from my knowledge of Perfection, it isn’t a here today- gone tomorrow kind of Problem. Your response to my question was that you “got caught up in fun”. I then wondered if Perfection had ever “told you a joke or made you laugh”. In fact, you were laughing out loud when you replied- “NO. IT’S THERE TO PUSH ME HARD TO MY POTENTIAL LIMITS” but we saw the potential deception here and compared that to what Ali had to say about the white horse becoming a very dark horse. You aid in response to reading that that you can “really related to that. It is holding out a goal in front of you but it always just too far away to grab on to”. You also agreed with Chelsea that Perfection is like a “bad lawyer who twists your words”. We wondered how Perfection could take someone’s noble ambitions eg. Ali’s account of the woman who wanted to become a doctor and heal the sick and Perfection then turned those very noble ambitions into something very deadly for her. You thought it “sows doubt in my mind”. Do you think of late that Perfection’s seeds are falling on rocky and arid ground?
You then gave me an example of Perfection operating on you Saturday night with a girl at the party. You were aware that Vicky wanted to be with you- “I thought she was nice looking so I doubted if I was good enough to be with her”. Although looking back with your self-respect, you wished you “stayed, Perfection send you home smartly. You were of the opinion that “it stems back to the Sarah thing”. When I asked what you would have done if you had followed your heart with Vicky, you said in a rather determined manner that you “would have stayed and talked”. We wondered if it was the time to go back and sort the Jerry-Vicky relationship out. Once again, you stressed the “deepness” of it which really caught you off guard and in a manner of speaking, you were overwhelmed by the ‘divine madness’. We discussed how much of a difference there was between books on love and being in love. We thought we might get together next time and write Sarah just is case she misunderstood your sudden departure as a rejection rather than thwarted love. She would certainly have to be clever and know you inside out to have guessed that that was behind your departure from the relationship.
I asked if you might ask, for the sake of the opposition to Perfection, if you might go over the documents of Brian and indicate if there was anything there that assisted you in breaking the spell of anorexia and going a mile or two down the road and finding Perfection, in essence, a form of ridiculousness. Not many people know have made such as leap as that. Here are some questions you might ask yourself- please note down your replies imperfectly on a ratty bit of paper and bring it with you the next time we meet:
1) How did I take this and apply it to the particulars of my struggle with Perfection?
2) What attempts did Perfection make, even thought they were obviously unsuccessful on this occasion, to bring you back under its sway?
3) What actions, thoughts, ploys or whatever did you come up with or borrow from Brian to hold on your course of action- celebration, fun and self-respect?
4) As If find it hard to believe Perfection would just throw in the towel, what did it do now to try and ‘twist’ your very words to serve its deadly purposes?
Yours against perfection,