A couple of weeks ago, I read an article on KSL about the "toxic perfectionism" that is plaguing the women of my community. Although I found the article a little unfounded as far as research goes, I did feel that it rang true, at least partially, based on what I've witnessed among my friends and loved ones. The article said that LDS (Mormon) women feel pressure to be perfect, or at least a good as their neighbors, and that this causes depression among them, because they can't live up to their own expectations, or what they perceive are the expectations of the Church and everyone else. I suspect that this is not only an LDS affliction, but one that women in general seem to suffer from at one time or another. Perhaps it is more acute here in Utah Valley, because many people here share the same values and belief system, and feel like they know what their neighbors and friends expect from them, based on those common beliefs.
I write web content for a couple of drug rehabilitation facilities, and around the same time that I read the article on toxic perfectionism, I read one about the growing meth addiction epidemic in our area, in which women hold the uncommon position of leading the pack in new users. Among the top reasons for beginning to use meth, women listed weight loss and more energy. Basically, some women are feeling so much pressure to be a better person, that they turn to illicit drug use to accomplish this.
I want to clarify that the LDS Church's take on perfection and self improvement as outlined by one of its leaders, Joseph B. Worthlin is, "We don't have to be perfect today. We don't have to be better than someone else. All we have to do is be the very best we can." That sounds doable, doesn't it?
So, if the Church isn't putting pressure on us to be perfect, where is the pressure coming from? I'm sure that it's coming from our inner selves more than from anywhere else. The judgement that we may be feeling from our neighbors isn't coming from our neighbors at all. It's really coming from ourselves, from our own sense of competition and lack of self esteem.
I think the answer to this problem is to really consider what we value in a friend, and then concentrate on being that type of person for others. Do I only want to be friends with ladies who have a clean house? No, I want to be friends with ladies who don't mind sitting at the bar and chatting with me while I get my sink full of dishes under control. Do I only want to be friends with ladies who are thin? No, I want to be friends with ladies who make me feel good about myself, and who feel good about themselves, as well. Do I only want to be friends with ladies who manage their entire life with quiet composure, who never raise their voice or lose their temper? No, I want to be friends with ladies who have a sense of humor, say a curse word once in a while, and are a little bit overwhelmed when their kid pees their pants in public.
I want friends who I can feel comfortable around, who I can be myself around, and who I can be close to through our common, everyday insanities. I like people with visible imperfections because they make me feel normal and happy. I don't think this is as much a case of misery loves company, so much as I like getting to know people on a real level. I like to know my friends so I can love them all the way, and a person who appears to be perfect is surely a person who I don't know very well yet.
Does this mean that we don't need to strive for self improvement? Does this mean that I should start dropping the "F" bomb every time I'm frustrated? No, it just means that I should do my best and cut myself a little slack. My life is crazy, and sometimes I come up short, but it's nothing to develop a meth addiction over.