So, in my last post, I explained I am writing 40 posts about various disability aspects for 40 days in observance of Lent, preparing myself for the celebration of Resurrection Sunday. This year I am doing something different. I am giving up one of my defense mechanism to honor Jesus and to strengthen my dependence on Him: Perfectionism. Thus, all this writing.
The question is, “How did perfectionism become one of my main modes of interacting with the world?” There is never just one answer to this type of question. However, these forty days is about exploring disability issues. Therefore, I will share how my disability has impacted my psychological addiction to perfectionism.
What I am about to say stems from my own experiences and beliefs. I do not speak for the whole disability community. We have vast diversity within our community, just like any other minority group. With that said, I think many will relate to my views.
I figured out way back that the price for me to be accepted and somewhat strive in mainstream society was perfectionism. Each year of my elementary school, my special education teacher would approach the regular teachers, asking them to let me into their classes. Ms. O would explain that I needed to be connected to special education for my physical needs, but I couldn’t be segregated otherwise. I was really bright, she assured them, and I would show them that I should be learning with regular children. It was the early 80’s, and I remember seeing the expression of disbelief of each teacher as they eye my special ed teacher and me up and down, as though we were living in a fantasy world.
Of course, there were a few children with disabilities who were doing what was being suggested for me. However, they didn’t have speech impediments like me. Their intelligence and need to be integrated were automatically assumed. When teachers saw me, they saw a little kid who drooled and who could not be understood. Obviously, I had no business being in the regular classroom. Ms. O would persist every year, though, and every year the teacher would agree to give me a chance to prove that I belong.
And I remember feeling like I could not mess up, or else I would be removed from the other kids. I made sure I did what t was told by the letter. I made sure I had the best grades, and I didn’t act up. I made sure I had a smile on my face and was friends with everyone. I didn’t tell when kids made fun of me. I raised my hand to every question that teachers asked the class, and I would make sure my distorted words were right.
I got in major trouble when I made my first C at the age of 8. Ms. O had been furious when she learned of this. She sat down to my eye level, looked me in the eye, and said. I had to do better, that I had to prove that I do belong. Because of my disability, I had to do more to be seen as the same. I remember breaking into sobs. I received a paddling. I had received the message.
These are just a few of the memories I have ingrained in my soul that say I don’t have room to mess up because my disability requires me to proof my worth. As a result, I do my best to avoid failure, which of course, means I miss out on many opportunities. I continually hold myself back. I need a high likely hood of success to risk.
Oh Jesus, how I need you. Free me from the bondage of perfectionism. It is evil and it destroys.
How I long to hold that seven year old Jody. I would proclaim to her with joy that she doesn’t need to be perfect to be worthy of belonging. Then I would rock her as her tears of disbelief run down her cheeks. I would hold that little girl until she believed.
What would you tell your seven year old self?
Let’s Keep Being Brave.