Saturday, August 19, 2006

Most of My Subs Are on Strike


Have you ever worked for a boss who demands perfection and no matter how well you perform, it just isn't good enough? That's what it's like to live with a dominant perfectionist subpersonality. The Perfectionist requires that everything be done perfectly, that I never make mistakes, that I never rock the boat, and that I never do anything that might make someone else angry or uncomfortable. As you can see, there is also a bit of the Pleaser wrapped up in this subpersonality.

I spent much of the last year working to understand and control another subpersonality (my Inner Critic) -- another kind of manager, which is the role the Perfectionist plays. I've had some success with the other sub, but now the Perfectionist has been trying to run the show for the past few months, especially since a minor meltdown back in early July.

The result is that I have to be perfect at work with my clients; I have to be perfect in my relationship with Kira; I have to be perfect in how I post here on my blog; and I have to perfect in how I interact in the pods at Zaadz. The topper of all the toppers is that many of my clients work with me as an integral coach, so I feel even more pressure to be perfect with them.

The downside is that my other subs are fed up with the pressure, and they have gone on strike. My posts here have been shallow and very impersonal, which goes against my intent. I avoid other people as much as possible. I procrastinate everything (I recently bought more clothes to avoid doing laundry -- it was easier). And I have avoided picking up new clients at the gym even though I have openings.

All the other subs seem to have said, "Yo, Perfecto, you want perfect? Do it yourself." Since that sub only has the power to push me toward perfection and not to actually follow through (it's a manager, remember), I'm stuck with all my other subs walking the picket line and no one wanting to do any work.

I didn't realize this was what was happening until this afternoon when Kira initiated "a talk" about why there was a lack of emotional continuity in our relationship lately. After I got past being defensive and quieted the Perfectionist a**hole that insisted it couldn't be him, I was able to see what was happening. Gotta love having an observer self.

One of the great and awful things about relationship is that there is nowhere to hide. Kira sees me in ways I sometimes don't want to be seen. She may not know what is going on, but she knows that something is amiss.

Anyway, for the year that I was in therapy, my therapist kept pushing at my Perfectionist, asking me if it was exhausting to always have to be perfect. I was very intellectual about the whole thing, and thought, "Yeah, I guess it is kind of tiring. But that's the price I pay to be good at what I do -- no matter what it is." All ego and no emotion. That's the manager that got fired and made room for the Perfectionist to take over.

Today, for the first time, the emotion kicked in and I FELT how exhausting it is to live with that voice inside my head. How exhausting it has been to live with that voice ever since I was a small child and learned that my father would love me more if I didn't make mistakes, if I always got good grades, or if I was always the best athlete. But then he began to expect all that and stopped acknowledging it, so I had to work even harder to deserve his love. Like a dog chasing its tail.

I'm sure many other kids had similar parents and aren't whining about it on a blog. That's great. But this is one of the things blocking my path to being a more integrated and healthy person, so I am determined to fix it. Now that I know what is happening, maybe the Perfectionist will sit down at the bargaining table with the other subs and hammer out a deal that works for everyone.

I know the Perfectionist is just trying to ensure that I don't embarrass myself and that other people will see me as competent, which keeps my ego happy. That behavior doesn't serve me well anymore, however, so I need to find other ways for the Perfectionist to get its needs met -- and to remove him from his manager role. I'm not sure which sub is best qualified to run the show, but we need new blood at the top to get the others back on the job.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi William. Found your blog listed on Religious Forums. Have found Ken Wilber's work and Spiral Dynamics oh so helpful so clicked away.

Getting your perfectionist sub-personality to sit down and negotiate with others sounds to me quite reasonable. Aware of it as a hindrance perhaps slowly over the period of many many years its hard edges will be softly dissolved.

I went through a perfectionist phase while in my late teens and early adulthood, though it had more catastrophic consequences than that you described in your blog, I think. It managed to steal much of the fire from other more useful things rushing around my psyche. Things that could, should and eventually would serve me very well.

I had a similar-ish relationship with my father, though of course details are everything so this is a very superficial glance. Anyway, as well as never being happy with what I tried to do to he'd be happy when I gave up because it meant I didn't distract him from his starlight. I was an unnecessary irritation to him unfortunately. I think he was too young to have been a father. He resented me, and I came to resent him too, especially when he fell to pieces after splitting with my mother. I had to look after him as well as my brother who was desperate for reassurance, encouragement and containment. It 'irritated' me that he should expect help from me in that way. I had college and work and getting laid to deal with! My father had become a colossal failure (in my mind), and I was going to be just the opposite.

Just prior to leaving home and striking out by myself I became interested in Occulism. The particular brand of occultism I was involved in was going to revolutionise the world for the better. Hah. Hopelessly idealistic of course but then its natural to be idealistic when young, especially when the head of a cult takes you on as a surrogate son! In order for my ideals to be realised as true, to be certain of them, I had to push myself beyond the pale to be some kind of ubermensch character. The other factor was needing to help others by getting them on board with all this great stuff I'd found. That meant either gaining their trust, approval and love or, where opposed, beating them (all of them) at everything (not an exaggeration) and so making them yield in some Nietzschean noble-ethics way. Depending on their position of authority I wanted to be everyone's ultimate hero or ultimate daddy.

The trouble was it was simply impossible. I needed to acknowledge that I was human and could fail. I needed to discover that failure wasn't so bad, not at all. And most of all I needed to realise how completely screwed up everything was in Samsaric existence anyway. But I was not going to be worthless! No way. I had to subdue my father. So, where I wasn't the top of my class, most popular, most resourceful, etc. then I would at least give the appearance of being so. This trickery fed into latent narcissistic tendencies. If I couldn't authentically be super-human then I could at least become the mirror for other people's projected phantasies of such, and I lost interest in doing anything that didn't put the maintainance of this appearance first. It was a 24/7 job. It took over.

That tenacious perfectionism quickly led to the wrong sort of spiritual dryness, and, cut off from the source I had to turn up the heat to deny this had occured. This meant achieving more and more so that the recognition from others of my attainment would bury the feelings of something having gone very wrong somewhere. I didn't have real relationships involving intimacy since that meant risked people seeing the real me, something I loathed. Really, I had to become a false God to kill God and was truly locked into narcissistic pride as a result. Luckily for me my health collapsed under the strain and the resulting period of desolation and despair forced me to completely re-examine my life in the throws of ego-death. This was facilitated by being socially isolated during this time and having to meditate and practice Tai Chi Chu'an (no standard medicine for REDD/CFIS). Contemplation, meditation and Tai Chi Chu'an; that's pretty much all I did for a couple of years. My perfectionist disintegrated together with much of my personality and beliefs. A fresh start, and a wonderful start. :D I experienced Kensho and never again would my narcissistic tendencies manage to assert themselves in a notably significant way.

Extreme cases often illustrate the point best and perfectionism, its a tricky sod to deal with. Good luck!