If you do a Google search on the phrase “you are perfect just the way you are,” you’ll turn up over a 100,000 occurrences! Oprah.com preaches it, musicians sings it – the phrase is deeply engrained in our culture. Countless self-help gurus and psychology professionals incorporate the phrase into their work and advice to others.
The problem is that we are not perfect and I believe that taking this truism too literally is eating away at our ability as a culture to maintain authentic relationships that grow and adapt over time.
Think about it. To claim we are perfect is to say that we no longer need to grow or change… ever. Like a painting hung in the Louvre, there is nothing that needs to be added or subtracted from our make-up. A literal interpretation of perfect implies done. And nothing could be further from the truth. We are not perfect paintings. Each of us is more like a rose – beautiful, elegant, amazing in our own way – but still in need of pruning and cultivating from time to time. And we need to grow always.
I believe the unintended relationship consequences of misinterpreting this phrase have been huge. Consider the following paraphrased scenario that I have seen played out in real life – “I am perfect and you are perfect. So if our relationship is going through a tough spot we must simply not be meant to be in each other’s lives. Like oil and water, we just don’t mix and if the situation isn’t working we should part ways. After all, we are both perfect and neither of us will be changing anytime soon.” There is no room in a “perfect” world for “broken, but fixable.” In this sense, the phrase has become a justification for emotional paralysis and using the easy way out, comfortably cloaked in culturally acceptable self-righteousness.
I know that in my own case, some of the relationship moments in my life I am least proud of ironically have come from moments where I’ve felt “perfect” and wanted to teach others how wrong they were. There have been times that I needed to remind myself that there is a huge difference between humbly sharing and hoping to learn from each other and imparting “perfect wisdom” from on high to teach another the errors of their ways. But if I am perfect, doesn’t it follow that I am justified in teaching others a lesson and that I certainly don’t need to listen to their objections or feedback? Only in embracing my imperfection can I make room for wise council from others and truly be comfortable with the fact that they may choose to ignore my input.
In my seeking, I found it particularly confusing when I read therapists “you are perfect just the way you are” – after all, isn’t much of therapy about finding ways to work on and deal with brokenness? I don’t think there is a single therapist that believes that they personally are “done,” never mind the clients that come to them seeking help with specific difficult issues. So what do they mean? What is being lost in the translation from dictionary definition to psychobabble?
Rather than “perfect,” I get the sense that most professionals actually mean something closer to “worthy.” They are saying that you are the best version of you that you can be right now, and that version of you is worthy of love and acceptance. As Dr. Brené Brown (@BreneBrown) notes, “people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they are worthy of love and belonging.” There is no requirement for picture perfect in that phrase. Each of us is like a child’s finger painting placed proudly on the fridge. We are precious and cherished as we are; not perfect, but “enough.”
For further reading: Self Esteem Doesn’t Make Better People Of Us
2010 has been another year of discovery for me. Inspired by incidents in my own life and in those of others on my RatedGRomance Twitter feed, I’ve become fascinated with relationship psychology. However, my formal science education is not in psychology but rather in biology and computer science, so I am a newcomer to this fascinating field. As such, I often find myself somewhere between “Wow, that makes sense” and “Seriously? Prove it.”
In this ‘Seriously?’ series of posts, I want to use my sceptical fresh eyes to challenge a few psychological truisms that have invaded pop-culture in ways that I believe are detrimental to the maintenance of rich, long term relationships. But please know that I am approaching this only as an anecdotal expert; a “seeker” hoping to enrich my own life and those in my sphere of influence through research supported knowledge. I want to thank everyone in advance for their references, comments and feedback. Each one of you is a guide on my journey. Know that whether you agreed with me or not, your words are greatly appreciated.