We artfully hide imperfections. We hide them from others and hide them from ourselves. Indeed, we have learned that some environments don’t graciously accept our stumblings. By exposing weaknesses, we diminished security. Our protective defenses, typically formed in childhood, were necessary at one point; but now outlive their usefulness, interfering with relationships and development. The protective practice of hiding imperfections only limits growth. We may find limited security lifting ourselves above lessor others, but pay a high cost with broken relationships. By living with imperfection, we learn to understand human vulnerability.
We Need Relationships
We display strength and conceal weakness, fooling ourselves with a protective shell of independence, while ignoring our need for external sources. Human connections through societies, families and groups are not merely conveniences; they are necessary for survival. We need others. No man is an Island.
See Belongingness for more on this topic
Our weaknesses sometimes poke the sensitivities of others. Openness isn’t always blessed. When we stumble, our failure may upset those around us, leading to an unpleasant reaction. Ego defenses create a smooth by avoiding conflict—momentary emotional tranquility. This imaginary universe of deceptions eventually collapses, even failing the original reason for the deception. Eventually, the faulty perception of imperfection is exposed, and the vulnerable must face the inevitable. Or, perhaps, we live with imperfection only by doubling down with deeper deceptions. Blind neurotic behavior is not what living with imperfections is all about. We can accept who we are without being abrasive.
“Human connections through societies, families and groups are not merely conveniences; they are necessary for survival.”~T. Franklin Murphy
Perfectionism is a Protective Defense
Many adopt a drive toward perfection as a defense against harsh criticism for errors. Typically, perfectionism begins as a childhood adaptation. The frighten child avoids shameful and critical remarks by trying to be perfect. Hence, they find some escape from over critical caregivers or older siblings. Of course, this is a fools game. We all live with imperfections whether we acknoledge them or not.
Reality Trumps Deception
While post-modernist may shun attempts to reign in reality, we can’t ignore the existence of truths. The closer we are to reality, the more informed our decisions and the better we predict outcomes of behaviors. Just because biases and misinformation routinely haunt our psyches, doesn’t mean reality doesn’t exist and wisdom can’t be found.
Strong relationships can’t be built on false pretenses. When conflict is avoided by deception, bonds are superficial. Consequently, the relationship fails to provide healing. Our true identity is not known, therefore, cannot be accepted.
“The flaws, rough edges, broken rules, and counter-intuitive choices are what makes our work unique, effective, and memorable.”~Josh Spector
Bonds are strengthened through conflict and repair. We shouldn’t seek conflict. But honest relating naturally includes clashes of differences. Healthy relationships negotiate conflicts, immediately seeking repair from momentary out-of-syncness, restoring closeness. This repeated pattern when laced with good will and tender affections, builds trust. We survive misattunement in a relationship because a healthy history reminds that the offender will repair the disconnection. Often they accomplish this with an apology and active repair.
In compassionate environments, we can safely expose our weaknesses, exploring deeper textures of ourself, knowing that security from a loving partner is nearby.
“The experience of affects becomes more alive, textured, and differentiated with layers of associations…”Diana Fosha (2000, Location 892)
We All Live with Imperfection
Thomas Merton in his epic book, No Man is an Island, wrote that we can only face and accept our limitations when we live for others. “As long as we secretly adore ourselves, our own deficiencies will remain to torture us with an apparent defilement.” He continues, “We will see that we are human, like everyone else, that we all have weaknesses and deficiencies, and that these limitations of ours play a most important part in all our lives. It is because of them that we need others and others need us.” (2002, p. xxi)
Acknowledging weaknesses is essential for connection, we come to know ourselves as we reveal ourselves to others; flaws become acceptable. Living with imperfection requires acknowledgment of our true state, opening us to vulnerability; but vulnerability connects us to others. I need you; and you need me.
“And while these mistakes and imperfections are all completely normal. We judge ourselves, often very harshly, for being imperfect—for being human.”Sharon Martin, LCSW | Psychology Today
Many choose escape rather than risk rejection. Their imaginations bend reality, painting a perfect existence beyond reproach, overlooking the blemishes and miss the true beauty of humanity. Those closely acquainted with reality do not wince at a freckle or a scar; they are intrigued. The texture of imperfection ignites attraction.
Fear of Imperfection
I have a close friend who was raised in a chaotic environment. He followed his father through divorce and a revolving door of live-in girlfriends. The unpredictableness of his childhood made insufficiency off limits. Imperfection is so distasteful to him that even my openness to my struggles ignites his fears. “Oh, no,” he would quickly retort, “you are really good at that.”
Self-deceptions are wondrous and seamless, creating a world where we robustly stand, uninhibited by judgmental others. Without courageous attentiveness, we disconnect from reality, reacting to feelings by living in a narrowly depicted representation of the mind. Evidently, we aren’t the best driver, the best partner, or best employee. Majority of people believe they are above average in most categories. From the foundation of a bloated self, blame becomes the only reasonable explanation for failure. IT MUST BE SOMEONE ELSE’S FAULT! We distort our view, see through biased lenses.
Complexity and Living with Imperfection
The unpredictable chaos of complexity creates too much anxiety; we escape with structure and control. The wise, however, recognize their susceptibleness to biased delusions and repeatedly challenge and correct. We should know (and accept) we have limitations. However, the precise thoughts and actions that are imperfect may evade; but by accepting that our views are not hard facts, we occasionally see through the smoke, grasp a truth and make needed adjustments.Brené Brown in her gentle wisdom reminds that, “Knowledge is important, but only if we’re being kind and gentle with ourselves as we work to discover who we are. Wholeheartedness is as much about embracing our tenderness and vulnerability as it is about developing knowledge and claiming power” (2020. p. 89).
When imperfections are invisible, avoided through willful blindness, we become servants to the deceptions, motivated to keep the deception alive. We can’t constructively improve when we refuse to see the blemishes. When we live with imperfection, opening up to the vulnerability, seeing the spots, we can establish supporting connections, learn trust, and discover safe zones for retreat. From this position of strength, we grow in depth, compassion and wisdom. We become enlightened to our humanness. Our faults don’t testify of our nastiness, we, in imperfection, still deserve the beauties of life—love, security, and forgiveness.
Brown, B. (2020). The Gifts of Imperfection: 10th Anniversary Edition. Random House; Anniversary edition
Merton, T. (2002). No Man is an Island. Mariner Books. Kindle Edition.