My last two entries left me thinking about my attitude toward making mistakes and how it has changed over the years. And is still changing.
My mother grew up feeling second best because she had an older sister who was very beautiful and her parents’ favorite. Her first child was a girl (me) and she tried to make her everything she felt she wasn’t. Unfortunately that didn’t mean accepting her child unconditionally and loving her as she was. It meant trying to make her daughter the most beautiful, the politest, the best dressed, the most well-spoken child she could imagine.
I reacted by trying my hardest to please her. But no matter how hard I tried to be perfect, I remained second best in her eyes. So sadly, instead of making me into her sister, she made me into herself, a child who grew up feeling unacceptable.
In the cult, all the children were less than second best. No matter what they did, it was wrong, inadequate, disobedient, stupid, and deserved punishment. Treating them this way was designed to break their spirits and make them compliant. And, of course, the children believed it was their fault and that they either hadn’t understood what was expected of them or they hadn’t tried hard enough. They kept trying in order to avoid punishment, not to gain love and approval, which wasn’t even on the horizon..
So the dynamics were different, but the message relentlessly drilled into me was the same: you must be perfect. No mistakes. And you must be better than all the others, or you are nothing. Okay, got it. I understand.
By the time I was a teenager, I began to see that perhaps it didn’t all hang together. The first challenge to this way of thinking was the idea that boys wouldn’t like me any better if were five pounds thinner. (This was shortly after my mother told me that I would look so nice if I just lost five pounds.) It didn’t challenge the core belief that I must be perfect, but the thought did encourage a blasphemous little voice to say, “Why bother being perfect?”
Over the years, I found more and more situations where it was clear that I couldn’t be perfect or, even I was, being perfect would be totally beside the point. What good would being beautiful and soft-spoken be when what I was doing was knitting?
I also figured out where the compulsion to be perfect came from. Just having insight, though, didn’t automatically give me permission to relax and be myself. Deep down, I didn’t really believe that I was a person who was good enough just as I was, that I had value simply because I was alive. I had to work at it, and believe me, it was hard work to buck that deeply implanted core belief.
So when I confused the solstice with Lamas, it was a small triumph to say to myself, “Oops. Well, it isn’t the end of the world. People will understand.” I didn’t feel ashamed when I posted a correction. I didn’t feel defensive. As a matter of fact, I thought, “Maybe my ‘fessing up will suggest to somebody else that it is okay to make a mistake.”
And it is okay to make mistakes. What isn’t okay is to teach children that they are dog shit if they don’t do everything they are told to perfectly, the first very time.